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This page discusses water supply and treatment in emergency situations, and other situations where resources are limited, such as poor, small or remote communities, and communities following a principle of simple living. For larger scale and/or higher technology solutions, see Municipal water supply and purification methods.

Finding or choosing the source Edit

See also Appropriate technology#Water supply and treatment.

If a clear source of water such as rainwater, springwater or groundwater is used, this reduces the need for treatment. Spring water typically doesn't need treatment, unless it is polluted at the outlet. The quality of water at the outlet may be protected with a spring box.

Surface water (rivers, lakes or ponds) is more likely to be contaminated.

However, in some circumstances the more contaminated source may be worth considering, if it is substantially closer or cheaper (though this argument may be controversial). The lower cost and/or effort would provide a great benefit to those struggling in poverty - in fact it may be the only option for those in extreme poverty. In this case, however, it is essential that the water is reliably treated to a high standard, otherwise the saved expense could be outweighed by medical expenses, and the saved effort outweighed by time and income lost due to illness, not to mention the suffering and potential loss of life.

In many cases, more than one source will need to be considered - typically a high-quality easily accessible source when available (e.g. rain in the rainy season), with a backup for when this water runs out.

Questions to ask are addressed in the following subsections:

Is the water currently carried long distances?Edit

Is piping an option? What type of pipe? Consider expense and reliability. E.g:

  • Unplasticized PVC[1] is good for water quality, but very brittle and should not be used unless it can be laid properly, in suitable sand;
  • HDPE pipe is more flexible and tougher, but more expensive.
  • Bamboo can be used as pipe, but is problematic.[citation needed] Because culms of bamboo are segmented, it is necessary to remove the rigid membrane that divides hollow sections. One technique is to cut an opening at each node along one side of the bamboo length and extricate the rigid membrane. With all the nodes cleared, the bamboo has become a continuous length of pipe that can be installed above ground with all the holes facing up. The drawback to this design is that the bamboo pipe cannot be buried or used for pressurized water distribution.

Is it carried long distances over very flat land? Consider the hippo water roller to ease the burden.

Look for other options which don't require the expense of piping or the burden of carrying water daily. (Consider ideas on this page and pages in the category, below; research more widely, and very importantly, consider the local situation and discuss with locals - see Community participation.)

Is there significant rain?Edit

Consider rainwater harvesting. This requires an appropriate method of storage, especially in areas with significant dry seasons.

Is there accessible groundwater?Edit

TubewellsTemplate:Wp sup may be relatively expensive, but often provide high quality water requiring little or no further treatment, with less travel time than surface water sources.

If using groundwater, check for arsenic, or at least do a proper analysis of the likelihood of arsenic contamination. The local geography and depth should give an indication. Arsenic contamination usually occurs when the water has spent many years underground in certain types of soil - for example, seeping from the Himalayas towards the Ganges delta, over thousands of years. Thus it seems unlikely that arsenic contamination would occur on a small island, for example. See the Wikipedia article Arsenic contamination of groundwaterTemplate:Wp sup for more. Keep it in perspective as well - fecal contamination is far more deadly and more a far more urgent problem than the levels of arsenic contamination normally found in groundwater, which typically have an effect over years of consumption. Arsenic concentrations can be reduced with the use of iron and manganese oxides.

Also consider pollution of the groundwater through agricultural, industrial, or sewage effluent. Sewage is likely to be a problem especially where the groundwater level is near the surface and septic tanks are used.

Is there significant fog?Edit

Consider fog collectionTemplate:Wp sup. Suitable for areas which experience fog even when there is very little rain. It might be guessed that this would not be as clean as groundwater, as the fog might collect dust and other pollutants from the atmosphere.[citation needed]

Are you lost in a remote place? Edit

Consider survival techniques such as a solar stillTemplate:Wp sup or tying a plastic bag tightly around a tree branch to collect water.[2]

Is a pump required? Edit

For pumping the water:

Purification methods Edit

See also Appropriate technology#Water supply and treatment.

Purification is conducted in 1 or 2 or 3 stages, depending on the situation - what is needed, and what is possible. Multiple methods mentioned here may be used in combination to produce safe drinking water. For example on a small scale, solar water disinfection requires fairly clear water, so a simple method of filtration, such as a basic sand filter may be used first.

  1. Sedimentation. If it is possible to let the water sit for a period of time, or pass slowly through a tank, heavier particles can settle out. (See Sedimentation (water treatment)Template:Wp sup.) If the water is relatively clear, this step may not be important. Or if the water is turbid (cloudy) but the solids do not settle out easily, this step may be of little use. It may also be impractical when water is being collected in vessels and carried home - though by leaving the vessels to stand, and not shaking them excessively when pouring, the vessels themselves act as sedimentation tanks.
  2. Filtering. This is sometimes skipped if the water is very clear (low turbidity). Filtering is usually important as pathogens and other contaminants are mostly attached to particles in the water.
    • On a very small scale, where better solutions are not available, this may be done with a cloth filterTemplate:Wp sup.
    • On a small scale, a small sand filter can be easily built using a bucket, sand and preferably gravel as well.
  3. Disinfection. While filtration will greatly reduce the danger of the water, it is still possible for very clear water to contain high levels of pathogens. Disinfection is important to ensure safety, both in killing pathogens, and providing a residual to kill any pathogens which are introduced to the water in the following minutes or hours. If no prior filtration was carried out, more aggressive disinfection will likely be needed.
    • Boil the water for several minutes. (Varied instructions are often given - boil the water for 20 minutes, or boil for 3-5 minutes. Common practice in some areas is to bring it the boil, switch off, then leave to sit with a lid on. In a tropical climate it will take a long time to cool, and this extended period at near boiling temperature also helps the disinfection process. The most heat-resistant pathogens are amoeba such as giardiaTemplate:Wp sup and cryptosporidiumTemplate:Wp sup, so the longer boiling times are needed to kill these.[citation needed]) Boiling water uses resources and is thus less than ideal - however it is very effective at making water safe to drink.
    • Solar water disinfection is effective (provided the water is clear before starting) and requires only PET bottles and a black or reflective surface (or paint half bottle black, so the bottom part is black when it lies on its side).
    • Chlorine or iodine tablets. A disadvantage is that people don't like the taste (particularly those not used to chlorinated municipal water supplies) and may fail to treat their water, or react with hostility to those who try to treat the water.[3]
    • Chlorine bleach is effective and can be used in emergency situations. A few drops of bleach are added to water and left to stand, covered, for a period of time. (How much bleach, and how long should it stand for?Template:Sp Is oxygen bleach effective?Template:Sp)
    • Add a lemon for every liter of water. This reduces the pH of the water which is particularly suitable where cholera is a potential problem.[4] (How effective is it against other pathogens? Is it a viable long-term solution, either at this level or more dilute?Template:Suggested project)
    • Slow sand filtersTemplate:Wp sup contribute to disinfection, as well as filtering the water - they clean the water so effectively that even free-floating are removed (though additional chlorination is frequently used). On a large scale, slow sand filters are suitable where there is sufficient land area. Note that slow sand filters may be much more space efficient with suitable management, tilling the sand rather than scraping it, for maintenance.
    • If clay pot filtersTemplate:Wp sup or ceramic water filtersTemplate:Wp sup are used, they can be coated inside and out with a silver compound, which acts as a disinfecting agent. (What is the additional cost of the silver coating?Template:Sp What is the effectiveness of the disinfection, compared to an uncoated filter?Template:Sp)

Scale Edit

The scale of the water needs, and whether it is to be a centralized or distributed approach, influence the choice of technologies.

For large scale, more sophisticated technologies may become cost effective - although the need for skilled operators may still be a barrier in some contexts. See Municipal water supply and purification methods.

Cloth filterss or simple sand filters, combined with solar water disinfection, may be suitable for use on a small scale, using jars or bottles, and requiring only very few resources.

Removing arsenicEdit

In cases of arsenic contamination (discussed in previous section) these measures are not effective. An appropriate technology solution to arsenic is available in the Sono arsenic filterTemplate:Wp sup. As it contains sand and charcoal, the filter should also be effective against other impurities. The water being treated is groundwater and thus should not usually contain significant pathogens - though of course this cannot be guaranteed! Iron and manganese oxides can offer a cheap method of removing low levels of arsenic from water. The oxides are able to adsorb arsenic ions and remove them from solution. Rusty iron nails (ungalvanized) can also be used as adsorption media.[citation needed]

Protection of water Edit

Water storage containers:

  • Lids
  • Special buckets are now used in refugee camps which better protect the water from contamination.[5]
  • Education - e.g. not rubbing the insides of buckets with hands when cleaning them; not rinsing with water which has been used to rinse other buckets.
  • Mosquito netting over any opening, especially for larger containers where water stands for a week or more. This is to prevent mosquito-borne diseases, as well as the discomfort of mosquito bites. There must be no holes in the netting. Also important for openings of septic tanks.

Water sources (spring box).

See also Edit

Notes Edit

  1. PVC is sometimes regarded as a toxic plastic; however the problems for the end user result from the plasticizers, and thus PVC water pipe should be very safe. In fact PVC is considered to be the best material for not releasing impurities into the water.[citation needed]
  2. See Wikipedia:Survival skills and Filtering & Purifying Water (from
  3. Les Roberts, lecture 5 or 6 (on Rwanda), Water and Sanitation Needs in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies, in the Global Health course of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, available as OpenCourseWare (OCW).
  4. "...cholera survives far, far better at high pH than at low pH. In fact, in a few outbreaks [of cholera] in the 90s, the Centers for Disease Control was advocating that people put a lemon per liter in their water. Lowers the pH down to around 4 point something.That's roughly as good as chlorine at killing off vibrios [i.e. cholera]. Incredibly effective." Les Roberts, lecture 5 or 6 (on Rwanda), Water and Sanitation Needs in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies, in the Global Health course of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, available as OpenCourseWare (OCW). (Quote occurs at 13 min 45 sec ion the MP3 file.)
  5. Les Roberts describes the research which led to the use of such buckets - lecture 1 (or 2?), Water and Sanitation Needs in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies, in the Global Health course of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, available as OpenCourseWare (OCW). (Links are needed here which show and describe the bucket and give more details.)

External links Edit

This page uses Creative Commons CC-BY-SA licensed content from Water supply and purification for emergencies on Appropedia (view authors).

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