Water purification in a disaster

Nothing makes clearer the importance of water than a large disaster: clean, fresh water becomes more valuable than gold. It’s easy to forget that without water, we just can’t survive. 60 percent of adult bodies are water and for infants, water makes up about 80 percent of their body. Nature made us water reliant after we left the oceans aeons ago, so a safe supply is necessary for survival.

Unfortunately, following large-scale disasters, it’s not unusual that water supplies may be cut off temporarily or be rendered unfit for consumption. Everyone should prepare for a minimal water supply based upon the disaster zone you reside in such as hurricane/typhoon, ‘noreaster, tornado or even earthquake and tsunamis.

Here are some basic tips:

1) Preparedness is Everything:

The advice comes over and over, but most people still are not ready when disaster hits. You must maintain a supply of clean drinking water someplace safe in your home. You can survive a week without food, but three days without water can be fatal.

You need to drink at least two quarts (½ gallon/7.5 litres) a day of water. Enough water for all the members of your family for at least a few days is a good idea. You can store water yourself in your own containers; anything glass and clean, thoroughly washed plastic containers with caps work well.

Seal water tightly in their containers and store them in someplace cool and dark in your home. Make sure to change new water regularly; once every six months. Of course, buying and storing bottled water is an option as well, but should be changed out every six months as well.



2) Finding Safe Drinking Water:

If you do run out of water during an emergency, or are trapped somewhere without ready access to clean drinking water, you’ll need to know what’s safe to drink, and what isn’t.

Possible sources of safe drinking water in your home include the

  • water from your hot water tank
  • toilet tank (not the bowl, but the water from your tank)
  • trapped in your water pipes
  • ice that you may have stored to melt.

Outside your home try to locate streams, rivers, lakes, or other sources of fresh water. Never drink floodwater; it is usually contaminated with bacteria and chemicals. Do save rainwater that may fall for drinking, but run it through a filter depending upon where it comes from. Runoff from downspouts may contain bacteria, solids and contaminants that are harmful.

3) Purifying Water in an Emergency:

If you cannot locating safe drinking water during an emergency, then any water you find that does not look clear, or which you believe may be contaminated, should be purified before drinking.

The best and easiest way to purify water is by boiling. Disease-bearing microorganisms cannot survive in high temperatures. Filter the water initially using any handy screening available – coffee filters, old linens, and even sand work well. Boil the water for about one minute. For improved taste, pour the water back and forth from one clean container to another.

If you’re unable to boil your water, treat it chemically before drinking. Household chlorine bleach can be used to treat your water. Use an eyedropper, to drop eight drops of bleach into each gallon of water to be treated. Make sure the chlorine you use lists hypochlorite as its only active ingredient; any extra chemicals or fragrances will only further contaminate the water. Stir the water and allow it to stand at least 30 minutes.

4) Off the shelf water purifiers:

There are many simple water purification products available from Amazon or other disaster preparedness stores. You can generally use them with any water other than that polluted by petrochemicals or radiation. Personally, I would filter them as best I could (see #3) and then run them through the commercial products. A few of the best are:

Life Straw – I have four personal size in my bug out bag. There is a bigger Mission version for a family

KatyDyn – multi-stage purification, good for larger quantities

MSR Hyperflow – with a hand pump and fits many wide-mouth bottles

As stated in the beginning, preparation is key. Don’t wait until the disaster is upon you to scramble for supplies.

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