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Water a pressing concern for typhoon survivors

  • ASSOCIATED PRESSFilipino youths walk to collect water at a neighborhood badly ravaged by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, Philippines, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013. Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms on record, hit the country's eastern seaboard Nov. 8, leaving a wide swath of destruction. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Filipino youths walk to collect water at a neighborhood badly ravaged by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, Philippines, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013. Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms on record, hit the country's eastern seaboard Nov. 8, leaving a wide swath of destruction. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESSA survivor collects clean water near a medical center in the city of Tacloban, Philippines Friday, Nov. 15, 2013. Thirsty residents have been struggling to find clean water since Typhoon Haiyan hit, resorting to drinking from broken pipes, rivers and any taps that remain working. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A survivor collects clean water near a medical center in the city of Tacloban, Philippines Friday, Nov. 15, 2013. Thirsty residents have been struggling to find clean water since Typhoon Haiyan hit, resorting to drinking from broken pipes, rivers and any taps that remain working. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESSTyphoon survivors camp out at Tacloban city airport hoping to be able to board U.S. and Philippine military transport planes Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, in Tacloban city, Leyte province in central Philippines. Five days after one of the strongest tropical storms on record leveled tens of thousands of houses in the central Philippines, relief operations were only starting to pick up pace, with two more airports in the region reopening, allowing for more aid flights. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Typhoon survivors camp out at Tacloban city airport hoping to be able to board U.S. and Philippine military transport planes Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, in Tacloban city, Leyte province in central Philippines. Five days after one of the strongest tropical storms on record leveled tens of thousands of houses in the central Philippines, relief operations were only starting to pick up pace, with two more airports in the region reopening, allowing for more aid flights. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESSIn this photo provided by the U.S. Navy sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington load containers of fresh water onto a Sea Hawk helicopter for delivery ashore in support of Operation Damayan Friday Nov. 15, 2013. Providing clean, safe drinking water is key to preventing the toll of dead and injured from rising in the weeks after a major natural disaster. Not only do survivors need to stay hydrated, they also need to be protected from waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid. (AP Photo/US Navy, Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Trevor Welsh)
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this photo provided by the U.S. Navy sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS George Washington load containers of fresh water onto a Sea Hawk helicopter for delivery ashore in support of Operation Damayan Friday Nov. 15, 2013. Providing clean, safe drinking water is key to preventing the toll of dead and injured from rising in the weeks after a major natural disaster. Not only do survivors need to stay hydrated, they also need to be protected from waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid. (AP Photo/US Navy, Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Trevor Welsh)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESSTyphoon Haiyan survivors walk through the ruins of their neighborhood in Tacloban, central Philippines on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013. A man named J.R. Apan painted a plea for help in front of his destroyed home the day after the typhoon hit hoping for aid to arrive but says he has not yet received food and water supplies. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Typhoon Haiyan survivors walk through the ruins of their neighborhood in Tacloban, central Philippines on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013. A man named J.R. Apan painted a plea for help in front of his destroyed home the day after the typhoon hit hoping for aid to arrive but says he has not yet received food and water supplies. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)
  • ASSOCIATED PRESSA survivor collects clean water at a medical center in the city of Tacloban, Philippines Friday, Nov. 15, 2013. Thirsty residents have been struggling to find clean water since Typhoon Haiyan hit, resorting to drinking from broken pipes, rivers and any taps that remain working. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A survivor collects clean water at a medical center in the city of Tacloban, Philippines Friday, Nov. 15, 2013. Thirsty residents have been struggling to find clean water since Typhoon Haiyan hit, resorting to drinking from broken pipes, rivers and any taps that remain working. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

TACLOBAN, Philippines >> Since the typhoon hit, Danny Estember has been hiking three hours round-trip into the mountains each day to obtain what he can only hope is clean water for his five daughters and two sons.

The exhausting journey is necessary because safe water is desperately scarce in this storm-ravaged portion of the Philippines. Without it, people struggling to rebuild and even survive risk catching intestinal and other diseases that can spread if they’re unable to wash properly.

While aid agencies work to provide a steady supply, survivors have resorted to scooping from streams, catching rainwater in buckets and smashing open pipes to obtain what is left from disabled pumping stations. With at least 600,000 people homeless, the demand is massive.

"I’m thirsty and hungry. I’m worried — no food, no house, no water, no money," said Estember, a 50-year-old ambulance driver.

Thousands of other people who sought shelter under the solid roof of the Tacloban City Astrodome also must improvise, taking water from wherever they can — a broken water pipe or a crumpled tarp. The water is salty and foul tasting but it is all many have had for days.

The U.S. Institute of Medicine defines an adequate daily intake of fluids as roughly 100 ounces for men and about 75 ounces for women. Given the shortages and hot climate, it’s certain that most in the disaster zone aren’t getting anything like those amounts, leaving them prone to energy-sapping dehydration.

Providing clean, safe drinking water is key to preventing the toll of dead and injured from rising in the weeks after a major natural disaster. Not only do survivors need to stay hydrated, they also need to be protected from waterborne diseases such as cholera and typhoid.

Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake was followed by a cholera outbreak that health officials say has killed more than 8,000 people and sickened nearly 600,000. Some studies have shown that cholera may have been introduced in Haiti by U.N. troops from Nepal, where the disease is endemic.

Washing regularly, using latrines and boiling drinking water are the best ways to avoid contracting diarrhea and other ailments that could burden already stressed health services.

It took several days for aid groups to bring large quantities of water to Tacloban, the eastern Philippine city where the typhoon wreaked its worst destruction. By Friday, tankers were arriving. Philippine Red Cross workers sluiced water into enormous plastic bladders attached to faucets from which people fill jerry cans, buckets, bottles and whatever other containers they might have.

"I’m thirsty," said Lydia Advincula, 54, who for the last few days had been placing buckets out doors to catch some of the torrential downpours that have added to the misery of homeless storm survivors.

Water provisioning should get a big boost with the recent arrival of the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS George Washington, a virtual floating city with a distillation plant that can produce 1.5 million liters (400,000 gallons) of fresh water per day — enough to supply 2,000 homes, according to the ship’s website.

Britain also is sending an aircraft carrier, the HMS Illustrious, with seven helicopters and facilities to produce fresh water, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said. It said the ship is expected to reach the area about Nov. 25.

Filtration systems are now operating in Tacloban, the center of the relief effort, and two other towns in Leyte province, the hardest-hit area. Helicopters are dropping bottled water along with other relief supplies to more isolated areas.

Other more high-tech water purification solutions are also available, such as water purification bottles developed since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated parts of Thailand, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka. Those contain systems that filter out parasites, bacteria and other dangerous substances from virtually any water source, making it safe to drink and alleviating the high cost and logistical difficulties that shipping in bottled water entails.

Longer-term water solutions will come once the crucial issues of shelter and security are settled and will likely have to wait several months, said John Saunders, of the U.S.-based International Association of Emergency Managers. Those water systems are far more complex, requiring expensive, specialized equipment and training for operators, he said.

"I can bring in a $300,000 water system that provides thousands of liters per day of drinking water, but who pays for the system and how is it maintained and distribution managed?" Saunders said.

Long-term solutions are a distant concern for Jaime Llanera, 44, as he stands in a shelter he and his family have fashioned out of broken plywood and a tarpaulin.

A single 12-ounce bottle of mineral water delivered by the military three days earlier is all that’s available for his parents, sister, brother-in-law and a friend. To stretch their supply, they’ve been collecting rainwater in buckets and any other containers they can find and boiling it. They’re also using rainwater to clean: His mother dunks clothing into a bucket of rainwater and tries to scrub out the filth.

The family plans to wait one more week. If help hasn’t come by then, they’ll try to find a way out of Tacloban so they can stay with relatives elsewhere. "We have no house. We have no home. But we’re still intact," Llanera said.

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Christopher Bodeen reported from Beijing.

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