Haiti's disaster illustrates just how important modern waterworks really are
January 26, 2010

With Port-au-Prince devastated by a powerful earthquake, a million people are in a state of tremendous uncertainty: Can they rebuild their city or should they try to leave for someplace else? A quarter of a million people have already been moved to other locations around Haiti. One of the main problems now is getting reliable distribution of food and clean water to the people -- and providing reliable sanitation to prevent outbreaks of everything from dysentery to tuberculosis. The public in many rich nations tends to take reliable clean water and safe sanitation for granted, but municipal water and wastewater infrastructures take lots of time and money to build and maintain. And compounding the problems of health and sanitation, having a large population without adequate water pressure available leads to a very high risk of catastrophic fires, whether in the debris of the city or in temporary camps. Big fires can only be fought with big, functioning water systems, which makes any fire in a refugee camp extremely dangerous. The reconstruction period will also be extremely dangerous without a reliable water system -- just as it was for Chicago, which nearly burned to the ground a second time after the great fire of 1871.

January 2010
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last revised January 2010