Typhoon Haiyan: After the floods, fixing the water supply

By Peter Goodfellow, WASH adviser

Pulling up in the centre of Sara town a few days ago – a mid-sized, dusty municipal centre on Panay island – I noticed a large group of people crowding around a small stall near the market. Children and women were lining up to receive free jerrycans and to buy water from a local vendor. An elderly woman in ragged clothes was begging nearby, as idle children milled around the central crossroads.

Water carriers containing potable water distributed to typhoon Haiyan survivors on Panay island (UK-IETR/Save the Children )
Drinking water distributed to typhoon Haiyan survivors on Panay island
(UK-IETR/Save the Children)

Plenty of water – just in the wrong places

Sara was in the path of typhoon Haiyan and destruction to buildings, trees and electricity lines remains evident all around. But a more subtle indicator of the damage done to this town was the line of jerrycans themselves: evidence that the water supply system was another casualty of the storm, so that now people are forced either to use rationed, muddy water from the pipes, or to buy it from vendors. Following a detailed survey of the reservoirs in the hills and the pipelines to the town, Save the Children’s water/sanitation/hygiene (WASH) team are rehabilitating the system. When complete, this will ensure that approximately 27,500 people regain access to clean water.

Outside the town the hard work of the teams was also evident. Some 8km from the town, I climbed a steep path to one of the reservoirs which had suffered damage and silting from the typhoon to see Save the Children’s efforts to clear the debris, which have greatly increased the quantity of water flowing into the system.

Improving quantity and quality

Repairing reservoirs and restoring the water supply is a priority. Operators had been forced to divert water around a damaged treatment plant, resulting in untreated water reaching households downstream; work is now ongoing to fix the sedimentation and disinfection systems. There are also sections of exposed pipeline all the way back to the town, many damaged by falling trees, which are now being replaced. Our project will both improve the quantity (by repairs to the reservoirs and pipes) and the quality (by repairs to the treatment system and town reservoir) of the water supply.

Returning to the town, I was struck by the impact that this project will have on such a large number of people. Children attending schools connected to the system, patients at the healthcare centre, and poorer households who will be able to access cheap water at home instead of having to spend precious money on bottled water will all benefit – and at a cost of around $3 (£1.80) per person. Across the swathe of the Philippines affected by the typhoon, children and households are regaining vital access to clean water, thanks to those who have donated so generously to our life-saving work here.

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