Access to Drinking Water

Considering that water is vital for nourishment of the human body, it is no surprise that water holds an important place in society. Access to clean drinking water is a valuable indicator of how the water infrastructure has able to withstand the pressures of the population growth and disease over time. Natural calamities such as flooding, bring to attention the importance of an often overlooked resource in today’s society. By contaminating the water supply, flooding further burdens a population in their efforts to restore their community. In both the United States and South India, the events have exposed public health concerns that are a part of natural disasters.

In the United States, shortly following Hurricane Katrina, over 80% of the city of New Orleans was flooded as a combination of both man-made engineering failures and natural forces.[7] As a result, the floods contaminated the drinking water supply with various debris from the streets. However, polluted water can pose a serious threat to one’s health and play an active role in the spread of such water-borne illnesses without proper precaution. Although there was no massive disease outbreak following the event, the most common medical complaint from flood survivors was gastrointestinal disease as a result of poor water quality.[7] The water that was sampled by EPA detected levels of lead, and “other chemicals, such as arsenic and petroleum products” in amounts that were above the EPA standards.[7] Even a month after the disaster, “10 percent to 15 percent of the drinking water systems throughout the area were still either under boiled water advisories or not operating at all.” [7] Without properly restoration efforts to provide access to clean water, a number of citizens were prone to illness.

In Chennai, the rain had a devastating impact on the water supply as well. According to the Water Resources Department, “resources of nearly 30 thousand million cubic feet during the floods [which would have] fulfilled three years’ of drinking water demand” was lost as a result of floodwater contamination and poor planning.[9] Not only is this an overwhelming amount of water at a loss, but a number of victims did not recognize the importance of water until the resource was no longer available. Anil Srinivasan, a resident in the state of Tamil Nadu, claimed that without potable water available to the 5 million inhabitants, food preparation, milk, and baby food were most impacted.[10] As mentioned above, water-borne illnesses can cause serious health issues. A number of public health officials expressed their concern and demanded an increase in medical camps in order to prevent the spread of common water-borne illnesses such as Leptospirosis that have impacted the region in the past.[11] Although floods promote the widespread of bacteria, in their efforts, both the United States and Chennai governments, have demonstrated how proper education and precaution can help prevent outbreaks.