Water and Disaster

Tsunamis, earthquakes, wars, hurricanes, floods, volcanic eruptions, famines, drought . . . Disasters come in many forms and can claim thousands of lives when they strike. Think of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011, the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, and the armed conflicts in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. Nowhere is a disaster’s impact more readily seen than in communities already weakened by poverty. Up to 97% of all deaths caused by disasters occur in developing countries.[1]

There is a close connection between poverty and vulnerability to disasters. They can be mutually re-enforcing. Poverty leaves communities open to environmental degradation, an increased risk of disaster from climate change, or vulnerable to violence and oppression. Disasters, in turn, can keep people in poverty, wiping out the few resources they have. This is especially true in poor, rural areas that are more dependent on available natural resources for daily needs and income generation. Around the world, poor communities lack the infrastructure, planning, and resources to handle the devastation that disasters bring.

Access to safe water is one of the main solutions needed to break this terrible cycle of destruction and death in impoverished communities. Without safe water, it is almost impossible to improve a community’s health, encourage economic productivity, or expand education, all basic components that affect a community’s preparedness for disaster.

In the aftermath of a disaster, quick distribution of safe water is a top priority for relief agencies. Survivors could become victims if not given an adequate supply of safe water to drink within 24 hours. Immediately, bottled water was distributed en masse along with water purification kits. While this rapid response was critical in preventing a second tragedy due to water-related diseases, it is not a long-term solution.

As risk subsides and people return to their communities to rebuild, those responding to a disaster begin to shift gears from relief efforts to development efforts throughout the region. Even as strategies change, access to safe water remains the top priority. Sustainable water sources will help lay the foundation for future community infrastructure and planning, with the hope of reducing the effects of potential disasters.

Lifewater is committed to helping communities obtain the most foundational element of life: safe, clean water. Lifewater’s WASH training programs strengthen communities, better preparing them for potential disasters and helping them to recover when they do occur.


[1] World Bank, World Development Report 2000/2001: Attacking Poverty. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 170.

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