Just Enough, Not Too Much: Striking the Technology Balance in Water Emergencies

Just Enough, Not Too Much: Striking the Technology Balance in Water Emergencies

Emergency water systems represent a range of technologies and costs for delivering reliable clean drinking water in disaster situations. Yet, too often knowledge and communication gaps between the private sector and partnering humanitarian organizations lead to the distribution of costly technologies that are out of sync with resource limitations and field conditions. Regrettably, the best intentions and the best technologies don’t automatically lead to a successful outcome.

  Aquamira Technologies Inc. has incorporated a knowledge of field conditions, partner input and an understanding of resource limitations into the design principles of our DIVVY Emergency Water System. Because of our understanding of low resource environments, we believe water technologies should be intuitive and easy to operate and maintain without special tools, power or technical expertise. Our systems are successfully deployed for rapid emergency response and also utilized for long-term water security in remote locations where water system infrastructure remains a distant reality. We firmly believe that systems designed to be operated by the community for the community result in a higher degree of cultural acceptance and adoption.

A recent report exploring the application of high science in low resource environments published by Oxfam and University of Glasgow confirms these conclusions and highlights failure to ask end-users about actual needs as the primary shortcoming of current practice. The natural result, as many field engineers will confirm, is a mismatch between the available technology and the demands of a crisis environment. Highlighted below are some of the recent lessons learned following one of the deadliest typhoons in recorded history - Typhoon Haiyan (known in the Philippines as Typhoon Yolanda). In partnership with LDS Charities Water Team, our team participated in relief efforts to ensure the successful implementation of the DIVVY Emergency Water System immediately following the devastating storm. The conditions that followed Typhoon Haiyan are commonly faced by vulnerable communities in the aftermath of a disaster.

These include:
● Water system infrastructure damage resulting in widespread water contamination
● Damaged power lines resulting in loss of electricity for months following the storm
● 1.1 million damaged or destroyed homes displacing residents to evacuation centers and temporary shelter
● Damaged roads preventing and delaying vehicle transport of supplies
● Long ferry lines delaying boat transport of supplies
● High poverty rate resulting in water and sanitation vulnerabilities prior to disaster
● Disaster response teams unprepared for personal drinking and hygiene water needs
● Congestion at airports and customs resulting in delays in distribution of supplies
● Limited access to communication channels preventing efficient coordination between relief organizations and local government
● Poor sanitation and hygiene resulting in elevated public health risks

  While in the Philippines, our team encountered several water treatment systems that were beyond the technical expertise of the teams available to operate them. These systems while technically sophisticated were unfamiliar to relief teams and created uncertainty surrounding proper assembly. Lacking confidence in their understanding of the technology, field operators were reluctant to deploy these systems. As a result, many first responders were faced with hardships securing their own drinking water which limited their ability to focus on relief efforts.

  Our experience in the Philippines confirmed the numerous inherent logistical barriers to delivering efficient aid following a disaster. While humanitarian response is vital to recovery, it is our goal to shift the primary focus from rapid response to a pre-positioning of emergency resources. We believe that doing so will reduce human and economic costs and increase efficiencies in delivering aid. Pre-positioning systems like the DIVVY into high risk regions prior to a devastating natural or conflict related crisis is the next step in truly understanding and responding to the needs of populations experiencing a disproportionate amount of risk.

  As a proud sponsor of the 2014 AIDF Disaster Relief Summit, we are eager to be in the good company of other solution providers and organizations dedicated to reducing the costs of humanitarian crises. Through our participation we aim to provide one example of how emergency water technologies can be designed with the true needs of users in mind. We hope to utilize this opportunity to forge new partnerships and collaborations to improve our combined efforts to address the needs of vulnerable communities impacted by devastating circumstances.

  We invite participants to learn more about our company and our technologies by visiting our booth and attending our Pitch Tank presentation on Thursday, November 20th. Those interested in learning more about the DIVVY Emergency Water System can also visit our website: www.emergencywatersupply.com.

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