The Critical Need for Clean Water and Sanitation

Morocco is currently grappling with the devastating aftermath of a catastrophic earthquake that has claimed the lives of over 2,600 individuals. As survivors are being rescued from the debris, they are in dire need of essentials such as shelter, nourishment, and medical care. However, one necessity stands out prominently: access to uncontaminated drinking water and adequate sanitation services.

Large-scale earthquakes often wreak havoc on water networks, sewage systems, and fundamental hygiene infrastructure. The aftermath can see mud and debris engulfing vital facilities, rendering entire water systems non-functional for extended periods. The absence of these amenities escalates the risk of infections, heightens maternal mortality rates, and paves the way for waterborne diseases like cholera, typhoid, and diarrhea. Such diseases can be particularly lethal for children under the age of five, with mortality rates soaring to levels 20 times higher than those caused by warfare.

Having served as the United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights to clean water and sanitation, I’ve witnessed similar situations unfold in various regions, from Nepal and Haiti to Pakistan, Turkey, and Syria. In these crises, survivors, covered in filth, often lack the means to cleanse themselves and tend to their injuries. Sanitary facilities, if available, are scarce in densely populated emergency shelters. The lack of access to sanitation compels individuals to resort to open defecation. Women and girls, in particular, face the challenge of managing their menstrual cycles without privacy or essential sanitary products.

So, what measures can be taken to alleviate this situation?

Immediate action is required from humanitarian teams operating in the earthquake-affected regions of Morocco. Initiatives should focus on setting up temporary latrines, supplying clean drinking water, and distributing essential items such as collection drums, filters, and water purification tablets. Medical facilities should be equipped with portable handwashing stations, disinfectants, and crucial hygiene supplies.

Moreover, it’s imperative for communities worldwide to assess their preparedness for potential earthquakes. Data from the US Geological Survey indicates an average of 16 significant earthquakes, with magnitudes of 7 or higher, occurring annually. A staggering 62% of the global population resides in regions prone to seismic hazards.

Preparedness is not merely about anticipating the inevitable but learning from past oversights. Countries should strive for self-reliance and resilience against natural calamities, which can expedite relief efforts and enhance survivors’ chances of recovery. For instance, post the 2011 earthquake, Japan prioritized the renewal and seismic resistance of its water infrastructure. Similarly, Los Angeles, situated on a major fault line, has adopted these measures.

In New Zealand, the 2011 Christchurch earthquake prompted officials to devise an emergency sanitation plan, anticipating a significant wastewater system failure. The strategy aims to ensure households remain self-sufficient for a week post-disaster until emergency services can reinstate utilities.

Other commendable practices include the installation of earthquake-resistant water sources in educational institutions and community centers, which can double up as temporary shelters during calamities.

It’s crucial to perceive the fortification of water and sanitation systems against earthquakes not as a luxury but as a pivotal investment in sustainable development. The repercussions of inaction are severe, with extensive recovery efforts potentially stunting economic growth. For instance, the 1994 earthquake in Los Angeles necessitated repairs worth $40 million.

Governments worldwide must prioritize the integration of water, sanitation, and hygiene into their emergency response blueprints and long-term investment strategies. Collaborative efforts involving utilities, regulators, the private sector, researchers, and NGOs can pave the way for comprehensive crisis strategies.

The recent earthquake in Morocco serves as a poignant reminder of the responsibilities governments bear towards their citizens. Upholding their human rights is paramount. The journey towards ensuring survival, resilience, and recovery can commence with a single step: preparation.

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