Water shortages could be the real ongoing disaster in Japan
March 15, 2011

Obviously, the tragedy of the earthquake and tsunami destruction in Japan is on a shocking scale. But the disaster could be compounded terribly if shortages of safe drinking water are not resolved swiftly in the affected areas. Water treatment systems are almost always found at low elevations, since that's where rivers are found and where it's easiest to drill deep wells. But that puts drinking-water systems at increased risk of damage by inundation, as obviously occurred with the massive tsunami in Japan. When a municipal water system is inundated, it can take days and even weeks to disinfect and return to service. In the meantime, though, thousands of people could be at risk of illness and even death due to water contamination. Destructive floodwaters are almost always carriers of disease, since they can carry untreated wastes, chemicals, and decaying plant and animal matter. Among the many urgent challenges ahead for Japan, getting safe drinking-water supplies back in order is one of the most important priorities. The threat of a nuclear disaster is obviously both very real and very frightening, but it should not cause anyone to take any less seriously the extreme urgency of getting drinking water to those who need it.

March 2011
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last revised March 2011