Flood Drinking Water Contamination: Risk Factors

asia, drinking water, floods, groundwater, international

Many in the United States are acquainted with the effects of flooding. Especially after Hurricane Katrina, numerous other flooding events, and the recent past deluge on the Chehalis River of Southwest Washington. Rampant in the media during these times of floods are deaths, displacements, economic losses, and causes associated with the flooding. Less common immediately after a flood event, however, is media attention to water-borne illnesses and water contamination.

Depending on location and sanitation conditions, flood water can contaminate drinking water (surface water, groundwater, and distribution systems). Groundwater wells can be rendered useless from inundation of water laced with toxins, chemicals, animal carcasses, septic seepage, and municipal sewage. Surface water sources are impacted in similar manners. Infectious diseases can also be spread through contaminated drinking water. As indicated by the Center for Disease Control such illnesses might include:

Diseases not present in an area before a major flood event are not likely to be present after a major flood event. Cholera and Typhoid are more common in lower income countries. Additionally, people in higher income countries are sometimes able to obtain drinking water at shelters, and/or others with adequate resources may temporarily move to a nearby location with safe municipal water supplies.

Above Photo: Devastation in Bangladesh. SOS-Arsenic.net.

Prospects in countries without such available infrastructure are often dire. Bangladesh encounters flooding annually. In August 2007, floods in the region (Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and India) killed over 2,000 people and displaced 20 million people with many infected by contaminated water supplies (over 100,000 in Bangladesh alone). Mozambique is enduring endured serious flooding as the Zambezi River and Save River are cresting crested the banks from torrential rains in Zimbabwe. A press release was issued by Oxfam International stating:

“Whenever a flood hits, a lack of clean water and sanitation facilities reaches dangerous levels in a matter of days, if not hours. Access to both will become farther and farther out of reach and could lead to a widespread health crisis as flood waters continue to rise,”

– Hugo Oosterkamp, Oxfam Water and Sanitation Emergency Coordinator

In all countries, time is of the essence to assist people with access to potable water. In rural locations, education is essential to provide alternative options for water treatment. Sometimes it is possible to disinfect a groundwater well that has been contaminated or, more immediately, purify water using solar radiation on top of a house and chlorinate small water supplies for personal use. For more information, see these websites on flood related water issues and well protection from contamination by flooding.

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