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Year : 2010  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 253-266 Table of Contents     

Ensuring safe water in post-chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear emergencies

Disaster Management Consultant - Natural & Manmade and Coordinator of National Core Group for formulation of National Guidelines on Water, National Disaster Management Authority, Government of India, NDMA Bhawan, A-1 Safdarjung Enclave, New Delhi - 110 029, India

Date of Submission26-Jul-2010
Date of Decision26-Jul-2010
Date of Acceptance26-Jul-2010
Date of Web Publication16-Aug-2010

Correspondence Address:
Praveen Kumar Amar
Disaster Management Consultant - Natural & Manmade and Coordinator of National Core Group for formulation of National Guidelines on Water, National Disaster Management Authority, Government of India, NDMA Bhawan, A-1 Safdarjung Enclave, New Delhi - 110 029
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0975-7406.68508

Rights and Permissions

Disaster scenarios are dismal and often result in mass displacement and migration of people. In eventuality of emergency situations, people need to be rehabilitated and provided with an adequate supply of drinking water, the most essential natural resource needed for survival, which is often not easily available even during non-disaster periods. In the aftermath of a natural or human-made disaster affecting mankind and livestock, the prime aim is to ensure supply of safe water to reduce the occurrence and spread of water borne disease due to interrupted, poor and polluted water supply. Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) emergencies augment the dilemma as an additional risk of "contamination" is added. The associated risks posed to health and life should be reduced to as low as reasonably achievable. Maintaining a high level of preparedness is the crux of quick relief and efficient response to ensure continuous supply of safe water, enabling survival and sustenance. The underlying objective would be to educate and train the persons concerned to lay down the procedures for the detection, cleaning, and treatment, purification including desalination, disinfection, and decontamination of water. The basic information to influence the organization of preparedness and execution of relief measures at all levels while maintaining minimum standards in water management at the place of disaster, are discussed in this article.

Keywords: Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear emergency, drinking water treatment, guidelines, relief camp, standards

How to cite this article:
Amar PK. Ensuring safe water in post-chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear emergencies. J Pharm Bioall Sci 2010;2:253-66

How to cite this URL:
Amar PK. Ensuring safe water in post-chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear emergencies. J Pharm Bioall Sci [serial online] 2010 [cited 2022 Jun 25];2:253-66. Available from:

Improper drinking water handling and scarcity may lead to health hazards. Priority is to be accorded in preventing the occurrence of epidemics or spread of diseases and risks posed to health and life due to polluted and contaminated drinking water supply, such as typhoid, cholera, rotavirus infection, watery or bloody diarrhea and infectious hepatitis (hepatitis A, hepatitis E), poliomyelitis, arsenicosis, fluorosis, trachoma, etc.

The basic objective of institutionalized disaster management set up is to develop a national community that is informed, resilient by choice and prepared to face disasters with minimal loss of life while ensuring adequate care for the survivors. Preparedness measures to ensure safe water in post-chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) emergencies must cover all the aspects of detection, cleaning, purification, and treatment including desalination, disinfection, and decontamination of water. These activities can also be strengthened by augmenting water resources during normal periods.

Optimum utilization of resources would have to be ensured with proactive participation of all the stakeholders. The sufferings of the affected people can be assuaged by response plans incorporating components which are a priority at the grass root level along with an element of the related flexibility for maximizing the relief.

Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHandFW) is the nodal ministry entrusted with ensuring health. The other stakeholders in minimum standards of water management are the Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR), Ministry of Urban development (MoUD), Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD), Ministry of Shipping, Road Transport and Highways (MoSRTandH) at the central level, ministries/departments of Health of the States/Union Territories (UTs) and scientific and technical institutions, academic institutions in agriculture, life sciences, zoological sciences, medical, biomedical and paramedical field, professional bodies, corporate sector, non government organizations (NGOs), religious bodies and the communities.

Presently, there are no guidelines for drinking water supplies to be provided to the people affected by disasters. Reliance has largely been placed and appropriated as per the needs on experiences gained and salient gaps provided by certain experts in the field, various sector specific documents internationally published from time to time by International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRCRCS), Norwegian Refugee Council Camp Toolkit, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Shelter Project, Sphere Project, United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nations Children's Fund/United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), United States-Environmental Protection Agency (US-EPA), Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC), World Health Organization (WHO), etc. Selective dependence has been placed on national publications of Armed Forces, Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), Central Public Health Environment Engineering Organization (CPHEEO), Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD), Department of Drinking Water Supplies (DDWS), Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD), Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR), State Public Health Engineering Department (PHED), etc.

In order to optimize the use of drinking water resources, national guidelines for minimum standards of drinking water are being structured and coordinated. The evolving guidelines have modest goals and objectives of providing safe drinking water supply to the people affected by disasters through an inclusive and participative approach. They also emphasize on priorities for the vulnerable groups, including orphan and widow needs, as an integrated pro-active relief approach in an institutionalized and participative manner.

   Present Status and Context Top

In the absence of any concerted guidelines, the objective of developing minimum standards of drinking water supply arrangement is to institutionalize the activities in India for mitigating the sufferings of the affected people through supply of adequate and safe drinking water in disaster/emergency relief by various implementing agencies.

In so far as the operational framework for disaster response is concerned, the related institutional and policy mechanisms were relief and rehabilitation centric. In view of the increase in the frequency and intensity of hazards by many folds with the current pace of development, there is a paradigm shift from relief centric approach to proactive tactics to ensure prevention, preparedness and mitigation.

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) in accordance with Sec-6 and Sec-12 of the Disaster Management (DM) Act, 2005, has been mandated to issue guidelines on minimum standards of water to be provided to the people affected by disasters in relief camps. Accordingly, a core group and steering committee was constituted with the responsibility of developing the guidelines in the water sector under the chairmanship of Lt. Gen. (Dr.) JR Bhardwaj, PVSM, AVSM, VSM, PHS (Retd.), Hon'ble Member, NDMA.

The members of the core group on sub head 'water' included Er A.K. Sengupta, National Professional Officer, Sustainable Development and Environmental Country Office for India, World Health Organization, New Delhi; Mr. A. Kalimuthu, Technical Advisor, Water Supply and Environmental Sanitation Plan India, New Delhi; Mr. Dara Johnston, Water and Environmental Sanitation Program Officer, UNICEF, New Delhi; Dr. B.M. Gandhi, Former Advisor, Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, New Delhi; Dr. R.K. Sharma, Additional Director and Head, CBRN Defence, Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences (INMAS), New Delhi; Mr. Roy K. Alex, Director Programmes, Evangelical Social Action Forum (ESAF) India, New Delhi; Dr. Sudhir J. Gandhi, Additional Director (Training and Epidemics), Commissionerate of Health Services, Gandhinagar, Gujarat; Dr. Suman Kapur, Professor, BITS Pilani; Mr. Vikrant Mahajan, CEO, Sphere (India), New Delhi; and Member and Convener Praveen Kumar Amar, Disaster Management Consultant, Natural and Manmade.

The Guidelines will form the basis for the central ministries/departments and states concerned to evolve programs and measures to be included in their action plans for water management. The private sector is also encouraged to participate in minimum standard of water by adoption of the PPP model to be achieved through strict conformity with existing and new policies and proactive involvement of all stakeholders.

The State/UT Governments and implementing agencies, as necessitated by section 19 of DM Act 2005, must evolve detailed guidelines on minimum standards in their own contextual framework. The guidelines shall be issued for preparing action plans for holistic and coordinated management of all disasters.

The guidelines will also be utilized by the responders and service providers of district administrators; the government, local bodies, NGOs, private and others local agencies; under the State DM plan; and all stakeholders connected directly or indirectly with minimum standards in water to mitigate the effects of such disasters. It includes the development of specialized requirements pertaining to management of minimum standards in water discussed in the evolving guidelines. This is possible with increased drinking water protection and procurement through government accountability, public understanding and support.

Further capacity enhancement and reinforcement of system, whenever required, will be provided by the central and state governments. Initiatives like public-private partnership are encouraged for further revamping the system.

   Water in Disaster Scenarios Top

In the aftermath of a CBRN disaster, surface water resources, uncovered storages and other water resources often get contaminated, and water used from these sources must invariably be treated before use. The demand has to be met by managing alternative supplies through possible simple repairs, revival of existing and traditional sources, laying of temporary pipelines, transportation or supplying packaged drinking water from neighboring areas, etc.

The localized drinking water treatment facilities may get wiped out or disrupted, the source water has to be treated and disinfected before distributing for human consumption or use. The topography, demography and the community of the Indian subcontinent is not homogenous and requires diverse application in similar disaster situations.

   Existing water supplies Top

Drinking water supply mechanisms, sources and resources greatly differ in rural and urban regions. There is an intense struggle for fetching drinking water in hilly areas, tropical forests, deserts and humid or coastal areas, plains with none or scarce water resources and places with saline aquifers require different strategies of management for drinking water needs.

Urban areas

The urban population generally has access to treated and piped drinking water from surface water sources like streams, rivers, lakes, etc., groundwater, rain and collected water, and collection from delivery tankers, etc. Accessibility is universally low for those living in slums or squatter settlements. The urban conglomerate is a complex fragmented structure that is generally clueless, devoid of alternate resources and unsteady in the event of a disaster happening.

The formation of an urban settlement inherits fixed and constrained resources, culminating in a very shabby division and distribution of resources, despite being managed by master plans. The scattered and squatter settlements and the varying density of inhabitants provide a very fragile position of the infrastructure to be relied for catering to the needs of an emergency or disaster situations.

Rural areas

The situation in the rural and far flung or inaccessible areas also requires considerable attention in order to prevent the sectoral related emergencies and for providing relief. Various interventions are required to put these areas into the mainstream.

Rural communities have access to drinking water supply that is largely dependent on the ground water sources. They might resort to either long distance hauling, manual digging or rely on hand pumps, mechanized wells, non mechanized wells and taps, etc. The direct access from drinking water sources, generally unsafe, might constitute ponds/dug out ponds, tanks, rain water harvesting, open wells, lakes, springs, waterfalls, streams, canals, dams, barrages, rivers, etc. These communities are, however, well knit and possess treasure of proven localized traditional knowledge in handling disaster situations.

Responsibility of other stakeholders/organizations

During humanitarian aid interventions, it is the mutual respect and concern for others that is generally present in human beings; this must be encouraged and emphasized.

The basic responsibility for supply of potable drinking water during disasters or any emergency situation to the affected people lies on with the state government and state government agencies. The community, civil societies/NGOs and private organizations through PPP, CSR, SRI and BCP may play supplementary role to the government efforts in providing relief on humanitarian grounds.

Integrating real time data, data collation and dissemination of information is feasible through online access to information that is relevant to source protection, drinking water system, trend analysis, water quality, manufacturers, suppliers and operatives' data to assist in judicious decisions by the concerned authorities in planning relief and the community for strengthening their coping capabilities.

   Standards and Guiding Norms Top

The minimum standards established and detailed herein are based on scientific and experiential analysis of the provision of water services in emergency situations. The standards define the minimum level of services that are essential to ensure the survival and dignified existence of the people affected by disasters.

During emergency or disaster situations, it is not a viable proposition to supply water for differentiated uses of drinking, cleanup, cooking, sanitation, hygiene, etc. It is therefore recommended that benchmarks applicable for the drinking water supply to be provided to the people affected by disasters or emergency situations, shall also be governing other water supplies for basic amenities not exceeding a period of 14 days.

   Phased Supplies Top

The minimum standards and guidelines cover the water safety, management, quantity, quality, access, distribution and storage of water in post disaster situations. The ambit extends to the probable procedure to be adopted in assessing and reviving the water supply facilities and can be spread over three phases for practical reasons: immediate emergency provisioning for survival (up to 3 days from the occurrence of a disaster or emergency situation); water supply services for basic amenities (4-14 days) and beyond 14 days time period, regular water supply services must be restored.

The vulnerable groups have special needs, viz., widows, children, pregnant women, lactating mothers with infants, aged people, differently able people, people living with HIV-AIDS, marginalized sections of our society, etc. It is very important to identify such people and ensure their access to water supply services/facilities. It is also important to continuously monitor the changing situation in relation to public health issues as it may increase the mortality and morbidity rates.

Accordingly, the precautionary measures are undertaken for improvement of water supply services. The people affected by disasters know best about their need and their participation is very important at all stages of planning, designing and implementation, since safe waters in the area might get contaminated by various probable means.

Nature of pollutants anticipated

Nature of disaster or emergency situation might influence the water quality by inclusion of natural pollutants like dissolved gases and minerals, suspended impurities, microscopic plants and animals and manmade pollutants like sewage, organic materials and infectious agents, plant nutrients, fertilizers including pesticides and herbicides, various industrial products, petroleum (especially from oil spills).

In addition minerals, chemicals, metallic salts, synthetic organic chemicals, radioactive wastes of uranium, thorium mining or refining, nuclear power plants, industrial, medical and scientific use also significantly alter the quality of water.

In certain cases, various toxic chemical substances such as nerve agents, sulfur mustard, cyanide, mercury, arsenic, lead, manganese, copper, cadmium, chromium, fluoride, nitrates, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons may also pose serious water quality problems. In the case of biological disaster, the water might get contaminated by dangerous microbes or toxic organic materials. Lethal nuclear and radiological materials with varying half-lives can contaminate water following a nuclear or radiological incident.

   Quantity of Water Top

Individual requirements - Drinking water

Physiological requirement of human beings influencing the minimum requirement of safe and wholesome drinking water for survival depends on the geographic, topographic and climatic conditions of a location, the type of disaster or emergency situations being faced, typical feeding and personal hygiene habits of the affected population, gender and gender related issues, age, illness prevalence, physical ability, moral dependencies, socioeconomic and cultural practices, etc.

For Indian conditions, the absolute minimum individual drinking water requirement per day ranges from 1.28 l at 22.1ΊC to 2.92 l at 50.0ΊC as provided in [Table 1] and health conditions requiring extra allowance are detailed in [Table 2]. In addition to other factors, humidity, weather and topography greatly influence the minimum quantity required by an individual and in Indian conditions generalization is not possible; however, a minimum of 3 l palatable drinking water must be made available commencing within an hour of arising of an emergent situation. After 14 days, all the people must have safe and equitable access to a sufficient quantity of water for drinking, cooking, personal, domestic hygiene and other chores.
Table 1 :Ambient temperature and minimum water requirement

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Table 2 :Health conditions requiring extra allowance

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The State/UT governments/implementing agencies shall adjust the minimum quantities (higher than the absolute minimum) as per the geographic, demographic, environment, social and cultural practices in the region.

There is abundance of representations for individual needs, their vulnerabilities and exclusion aspects; the same should also stem for dignified departure of the dead. A minimum of 80 l of water must be provided to the family of the deceased person and 20 l for every additional cremation on the same day, in the same family, for cremation rituals. This must be ensured as a mark of respect to the departed soul as does other matters that are addressed at various platforms.

Situations of acute scarcity might involve rationing of drinking water supplies. However, when sufficient drinking water is available, then in addition to absolute minimum quantity of safe water to be provided as per the norms laid out, normal water supply must be provided.

Packaged drinking water supply: A temporary measure

If drinking water supply cannot be met by restoring the disrupted drinking water facilities neither from creating new sources nor from transportation or by virtue of any other reasons, then only drinking water should be arranged, provided and distributed in a packaged form. The relevant standards and related instructions are given in [Table 3].
Table 3 :Standards and instructions for packaged drinking water

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However, in times of acute shortage or scarcity of drinking water, the nodal officer can permit temporary bottling/packaging arrangements of the drinking water, without specific compliance to the BIS standards for sources or means that are declared safe by local health officials. Such an arrangement for providing supplies in packaged form must be restricted for localized and directed uses only and must not exceed a period of 3 days.

   Risk and Priority Levels Top

During non disaster periods, drinking water quality is the physical, chemical and biological characteristic of drinking water in relationship to a set of standards, which might not be available during disasters or emergency situations. It becomes essential to provide adequate quantity of safe drinking water for survival and rehabilitation of the affected people by managing with the available resources, till proper drinking water facilities become operational.

In post disaster scenarios, safe water constitutes the water that does not contain CBRN contaminants. It may be treated surface or groundwater or uncontaminated raw drinking water from protected drinking water sources or bodies, surface or subsurface, approved by public health officials for distribution and consumption by satisfying themselves of the acceptability to physical, microbiological and chemical parameters.

Water quality risk and priority levels

It is to be ensured that people drink water from a protected, tested or treated source in preference to any other readily available water sources. Generally, alternate sources may have a bad odor and taste, and may also carry disease causing microorganisms. It is therefore essential to treat the raw water, as per the requirement, before distribution.

In the worst case scenario, water which is under normal circumstances considered unhealthy for consumption over extended time periods may be used, provided there are no short-term consequences to human health for example natural contaminants. Such a relaxation in quality parameters must not extend beyond 3 days of the occurrence of a disaster.

The following important actions are recommended to ensure the availability of safe drinking water as explained above.

Sanitary survey

An assessment of fecal contamination may be done by a sanitary survey of conditions and practices that may constitute a public health risk. The assessment should cover possible sources of contamination to water at the source, during transport, bulk storage and distribution, handling at individual and household level for consumptive and storage purposes, as well as defecation practices, drainage and solid waste management.

Levels of fecal coliform

The fecal coliform bacteria (>99% of which are  Escherichia More Details coli) are an indicator of the level of human/animal waste contamination in water and the possibility of the presence of harmful pathogens. If any fecal coliforms are detected, then the water must be treated before human consumption.

Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear contamination

A decision about using possibly contaminated water for long-term supplies should be made on the basis of a more thorough professional assessment and analysis of the health implications and the reference to NDMA guidelines for CBRN disasters for utilizing water from all open resources/sources/drinking water bodies, situated in the vicinity of disasters.

   Access and Equity Top

Equitable access

It is essential to ensure that all groups have equitable and secured access to water. Water points should be located in areas that are accessible safely by all, regardless of, e.g., sex, age, disability, ethnicity, etc. Drinking water, distribution and storage facility must be user friendly. In situations where water is rationed or pumped at given times, this should be planned in consultation with the users. The nodal officer/management groups shall ensure that the marginalized or socially excluded groups, if any and existing, have equitable access to water.


An appropriate water distribution system should ensure an even coverage of water needs among all sections of the affected people. The facilities should be compatible to minimum requirements presented in [Table 4].
Table 4 :Compatible minimum requirements for distribution outlets

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Layout of distribution points

Distribution point is to be placed first in the prevailing wind direction. The safe distances to be maintained while installing and/or placing of distribution points/stand posts are given in [Table 5].
Table 5 :Safe distances to be maintained in layout of distribution points

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Collection by users

One of the most essential parameters is providing water in the vicinity of the people affected by disasters. The parameters are provided in [Table 6].
Table 6 :Collection parameters

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People must have easy access to water. The designing of the installations should be synchronized with the gravitational flow for distribution network and maintaining the desired and directed discharge of the wastewater/spillage water. The stand posts/taps should be devised in a manner that wastages are minimized. Some of the important considerations for designing a good distribution system are presented in [Table 7].
Table 7 :Considerations per facility

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Control and monitoring

The distribution system must be carefully controlled and monitored. If required, it should be guarded and uncontrolled access by individuals to primary water sources should be avoided. Provision for transmission and distribution losses, from intake to distribution point, due to spillage, leakage, intermittent operations, contamination, etc. must be curtailed to 10%.

   Water Storage Top

Water storage may be the only means of ensuring a constant availability of water to cover the needs of the affected persons. Therefore, people should have adequate facilities and supplies to collect, store and use sufficient quantities of water for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene and to ensure that drinking water remains safe until it is consumed.

To ensure continuous water availability, storage facilities can be constructed at various locations which can be easily accessible to the affected people.

Individual and household level storage

The water can be stored in small containers and as a norm each household/family consisting of up to three persons must have one clean water container and family of four to five people should have at least two clean water containers. Such containers, made of food grade material, must be of around 10 l capacity each, region specific and durable, with a narrow neck, a secure lid for coverage and a tap for dispensing. One 1 liter mug made of food grade material must also be provided to each family, comprising up to five persons, for water handling including differential uses.

Bulk and temporary storage tanks

In general, local technology should be used for the design and construction of storage tanks or reservoirs. However, using prefabricated tanks or water tankers doubling as storages or temporary storages for disinfection may sometimes be the only way to provide water quickly enough in emergencies.

Cisterns of varying shapes, sizes and capacities made of canvas, iron, galvanized, etc. suitable for storing potable water may be used. In addition, the temporary pits in the ground with techno-textile linings can also be used for water storage purposes.

Compatibility with source and distribution system

Ensure that the size, location and overall design of storage tanks are harmonious with all other system components and design characteristics.

Storage covers and lids

In nearly all systems, it will be necessary to store water in covered tanks between the sources and distribution points. Irrespective of the type of storage needed, adequate enclosure should be provided to prevent any contamination from humans, animals, dust or any other source. A tight cover and dark storage also prevent algal growth and breeding of mosquito larvae.

Reserve storage

Providing an essential reserve, both during the emergency and for long-term use storage, will facilitate monitoring, collecting, treating and distributing safe water.

   Preparedness: Capacity Vulnerability Analysis Top

Vulnerability analysis studies the ability of a system (or element) to withstand, avoid, neutralize or absorb the impacts of hazardous natural events. This is a planning tool to prioritize and sequence actions and inputs and for empowering and mobilizing vulnerable communities during emergent situations.

Economically and socially marginalized groups in the society generally suffer worst from natural disasters. Some factors in vulnerability are readily apparent such as poverty, population movement and displacement, legal-political issues, discrimination, macroeconomic and other national and international policies, and the failure of governments and civil society organizations to protect citizens.

   Water Resources and Sources: Certain Operational Issues Top

Adequate protection and care should be provided to all resources and sources including community storages, if any, to prevent contamination and the related diseases. All water facilities are to be repaired and disinfected immediately after a disaster or emergency situation, as per standard procedure. It must be ensured that newly created sources/wells for supplying drinking water have proper elevation for effective drainage. While prioritizing, seasonal variations must be considered for maintaining reliability on the source.

For establishing and protecting supplies, regular monitoring for contamination and deployment of remedial measures is essential to maintain the quality of water resources. Security of these sources from unsocial elements and secondary disasters is equally important.

Global warming is also creating paradoxical situations where shift in weather patterns that affect rainfall, inundation with water of areas with scanty rainfall and vice versa are now commonly witnessed. Such triggers are bound to have a catastrophic bearing on water reservoirs, water tables and preparedness plans.

Other plausible causes effecting water resources are assimilating toxic waste into the water resources stem from chronic and acute pesticide poisoning, release of toxic chemicals by industries, municipal discharge, flooding and salination or physical damage to water resources, accessibility infrastructure including rupture of catchments for water conservation and the supply systems.

The relevant state government and district agencies shall adhere to the sectoral guidelines, norms and standards laid down by the nodal agencies of the government from time to time. Further, the state government shall make efforts for training and capability building of the line department officials.

The existing water sources and bodies for utilization must be kept functional and updated on a regular basis as per the suggestions given in [Table 8].
Table 8 :Suggested measures (keep functional the utilizable water sources)

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The term(s) "Water Resources and Sources", for all practical purposes would be mutually inclusive of all of the utilizable form or water contents of surface water, subsurface water, underground water, harvested rainwater, collected/stored water (natural or constructed), strategic municipal, industrial and community supplies, private wells, industrial and individual storages and storage or capability of service providers and water bottling plants, etc.

Surface water would be said to include, namely, any upland drinking water, dam, lakes, tanks and ponds, catchments, river, stream, reservoirs, ocean/sea water, derelict water, brackish water etc. Subsurface water shall mean dug well, spring(s), shores of drinking waterways (subsoil), etc. and underground water shall mean shallow well, deep well, tube well, artesian well, step well, driven well, borehole, aquifer, etc.

Reliability of water resources and sources

Water sources and systems are maintained such that appropriate quantities of water are available consistently or on a regular basis, after providing for seasonal variations. The factors that need to be taken into account are the availability and sustainability of a sufficient quantity of water, whether water treatment is required and, if so, the feasibility of this treatment, availability of the time, technology or resources required to develop a source, the proximity of the source to the affected people, and the existence of any social, political or legal factors concerning the source.

Generally, groundwater sources are preferable as they require less treatment, especially gravity-flow supplies from springs, which require no pumping. Disasters often require a combination of approaches and sources in the initial phase. All the sources need to be regularly monitored

Augmentation of drinking water resources

During an emergency, increase in the requirement of drinking water takes over quality. Usual chemical contents of drinking water from additional source should be ascertained on a priority basis.

Proven, cost-effective and ecofriendly technologies should be inducted to purify the aquifers. National and international free patents can also be relied upon for improving the quality of ground drinking water resources till alternate inland innovations are available.

   Health and Safety Issues of the Personnel Deployed Top

Provide sufficient training, physical and medical protection, including PPE, to the personnel deployed for providing water or making water supply functional and/or engaged in restoration works. Training in meticulous handling of disinfectants is also essential since negligence/lapses in managing them could be fatal, e.g. bleach gives off chlorine gas which is very dangerous.

   Capacity Building of the Stakeholders Top

The important underlying objectives would be to educate and train the persons concerned to lay down the procedures for the detection, cleaning, purification, disinfection and decontamination of drinking water and related facilities.

This would extend in providing a ready source of basic information in the sector to influence the state of preparedness and execution of relief measures at all levels and to provide the basis for preparation of minimum standards in drinking water management at the place of disaster.

Building coping capabilities

Water, the essential commodity for individual subsistence and continuity of response and relief operations, can only be realistically stored or managed for short-term emergencies. Thereafter, some emergency supply of water needs to be proactively developed to surmount the difficult times of disastrous situations.

The major strategy decisions are undertaken at the district and local level, taking into account the history, severity and extent of disasters prevalent in the area. It is, therefore, essential that the regional authorities keep prepared and identified local personnel with back-up support in strengthening coping capabilities for enabling quick and effective response.

   Local Capacity Top

The participation in the program should reinforce people's sense of dignity and hope in times of crisis, and people should be encouraged to participate in programs in different ways. The programs should be designed to build upon local capacity and must avoid undermining people's/communities' coping strategies. As a general rule, technology should be appropriate to the region and should draw on local experience.

Preparatory measures: District level

Certain initiatives to be undertaken for preparedness at the district level are given in [Table 9].
Table 9 :Certain preparatory measures at a district level

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Resource building: Equipments, resources and operative means

Necessary infrastructure in terms of manpower, material and equipment must be in place to meet any eventuality. It is recommended that the nodal agency for administering disaster relief should be equipped with boring machines with related inventory including hand pumps, field detection kits, water treatment and purification equipments with requisite stocks, etc. Sufficient quantity of chlorine tablets must be included in the medical first aid kits, with a provision of minimum 3 days requirement or as may be decided by the State/UT government.

Inventory and related arrangements should be in place, as a part of contingency plan, to be ensured by the central stores in catering to the needs of relief and response. For arriving at the provisions of such related water supply equipment, materials and supplies, due considerations must be provided to the anticipated criticality of a situation, the kind of vulnerability of hazards in the area, history of frequency, intensity and duration of disasters. Accordingly, adequate materials should be transferred from district stores to the strategically located block/village substores.

Emergency treatment of water at point of use

Necessary MOU/agreements may be signed by the line department with the national or state level research institutions for obtaining and utilizing latest technologies for on-site point of entry (POE) or point of use (POU) drinking water treatment systems/devices. Procure portable and/or mobile treatment and desalination/reverse osmosis (RO) units for providing drinking water in coastal and heavily polluted areas. Such units must also be kept in centralized locations that are easily accessible to nearby regions as well.

Drinking water testing facilities

Appraisals are required under stressful conditions of the contaminants of the available but affected drinking water for which multi-tiered laboratories would be required and infrastructure requires to be created at ground level. At present, these may be available only at Taluka level. A water quality surveillance system needs to be established and regular action taken based on the analysis of data. The data may be corroborated with diseases surveillance data.

   Skill Development Top

The important underlying objectives would be to train the persons concerned to lay down the procedures for the detection, cleaning, purification including desalination, disinfection and decontamination of drinking water and execution of relief measures at all levels and facilitate drinking water supply management at the place of disaster.

The training programs should be organized from time to time for the officers/staff in planning and working for mitigation of disaster situations. Such trainings should fine tune the skills that are necessary for effective management of drinking water supply during relief as presented in [Table 10].
Table 10 :Skills necessary for effective management of drinking water supply

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   Awareness Top

Dissemination of information in a projected and creative manner to the designated disaster management stratum and disaster management teams at the grass root levels shall form the crux of capacity development.

Awareness should be imparted for means of contamination of drinking water including handling of drinking water at collection points, storage in containers and transferring to cooking and drinking vessels. This must include awareness of resultant risks of indiscriminate defecation to reduce or eliminate risks to health of the inhabitants, as may be applicable to the local needs and habits.

People may prefer to use unprotected sources, e.g., rivers, lakes and unprotected wells, for reasons such as taste, proximity and social convenience. People must be made to understand the health benefits of being provided water, for consumptive purposes from protected sources or after treatment to have the desired impact. In such cases, technicians, hygiene promoters and community mobilizers need to understand the rationale behind people's preferences and the health information and communication materials shall be developed accordingly to educate people on risks associated with such behaviors.

Response process: Assessment and analysis

The nature of response process shall be determined by assessment of the disaster situation and a clear analysis of the probabilities, determined in consultation with relevant stakeholders.

The gaps identified should be clearly defined in terms of feasibility, quantified value, quality attainability, availability of inventories, manpower, manageable supply and distribution mechanisms, etc. leading to temporary, partial or full-scale restoration of drinking water supplies. Setting priorities based thereon and remedial measures are given in [Table 11].
Table 11 :Setting priorities and remedial measures

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   Special Provisions for Widows and Orphans Top

Disasters tend to be tragic in the lives of human beings resulting in tumultuous phases for certain persons. It quite often leads to becoming an orphan at different ages. Such people lack support or care or supervision and are under distress. The conditions may further be compounded due to adjustment problems related to identity, mental trauma, illness or incurring physical disability due to a disaster or results of an emergency situation. Disasters also render many widows having lost their spouses, facing challenges of child support, finance, social stigma, security and remarriage.

   Water Management Top

Water, while being scarce, is a lifeline for human existence and sustenance of essential services during the emergent conditions. It becomes imperative to optimize utilization of manpower, drinking water sources, available resources, inventory, and handling at various levels, water collection mode, journey time and domestic consumption.

While surface water will almost always need to be treated, a lot of risk can be reduced by properly collecting the water. This also enjoins to keep covered all storages so as to minimize losses due to evaporation and protection against contamination from various sources.

Water management entails that the design, construction, operation and maintenance of the water supply system should be carried out bearing in mind the need to minimize water wastage at all points (taps, pipes, collection and consumption points, etc.) This is particularly important in systems based on low yield water sources or on those requiring treatment or pumping.

Water management should be exercised from sourcing/intake points to consumption and carefully monitored for remedial interventions in wastages, detecting and leakages, and preventing abuses including excessive use, vandalism, etc.

Detection, cleaning, purification, treatment including desalination, disinfection and decontamination

Nationally and internationally existing and emerging knowledge of standalone and combination treatment processes/methods using alternate energy, etc. for drinking water treatment should be utilized. The accepted and cost-effective technologies, including those which are compatible for household/community must be encouraged.

Drinking water quality testing kits

To the best extent, possible quality of the drinking water must be properly analyzed in laboratories, and only in cases of extreme conditions shall the other options of Field Water Testing Kits (FWTKs), etc. must be relied upon. There are a number of FWTKs available to test the drinking water quality quickly, including the one developed by DRDO. The certified FWTKs must be used to avoid erroneous results.

Drinking water sample for fecal contamination should be tested either by Most Probable Number (MPN) method or indicative H2S Paper Strip Method for detecting the presence of E. coli and coliform bacteria.

Potential innovations in detection kits for developing cost-effective, fast and accurate determination must be incorporated on a continual basis.

Bacteriological contamination

In the case of detection of contamination (presence of coliform organisms) of a drinking water resource/source/mechanism, corrective action enjoins outright rejection of the source and removal of the source of pollution. Initiate measures to flush and disinfect the source, and for disinfection of water for drinking purposes by chlorination, increase residual chlorine levels to 0.5 mg/l and extend contact time to 1 hour.

Effective water treatment techniques

To enable the inhabitants survive and not to aggravate the situation during an emergency, certified and recommended unconventional means that are mobile or portable water treatment units, kits, devices, gadgets or methodologies must be procured and used in emergencies for treatment and purification. These should, however, be used for making water potable only during scarce and the most unbearable drinking water conditions.

Natural contaminants and poisonous chemicals in typical concentrations of groundwater do not usually manifest harmful effects in the short term. On the other hand, if there is any industrial area, chemical storage nuclear or radiological activity, or agricultural runoff is suspected nearby, then treatment for their elimination becomes essential, without which the source ought to be discarded completely.

Water treatment in an emergency for providing potable water is a major task involving a critical balance between the purification and disinfection methodologies used for the most effective treatment method available in a given set of circumstances. Purification methods need not necessarily disinfect and vice versa, leading to situations where the other contaminants may or might not be reduced. The situations might also necessitate para dropping of treatment/purification plants/modules.

Presence of various contaminants exacerbates the emergency situation, since detection is a constraint and is a major impediment in maintaining the critical, adequate and safe drinking water supplies. These contaminants that might make their presence felt are listed in [Table 12].
Table 12 :CBRN contaminants

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The most common and efficient drinking water treatment methods like distillation, RO and activated carbon filtration can be used during normal period. These are not optimal for emergency drinking water treatment, since their functioning shall require high operative skills, energy sources as pre-requisites that are generally not available during these times. Viruses cannot be effectively removed by normal filtration method.

RO technology is effective to remove nearly all the contaminants but has limitations in monitoring of the functionality for imperfections in the membrane.

Ultra filtration: Special membrane filtration system that does not require high water pressure, but dissolved chemicals are not removed.

0.2 μm ceramic filter: Significant in function with intact filter media, but most other dissolved chemical contaminants are retained.

Granular activated carbon (GAC) filtration: Portable filters with short life; do not filter out many chemicals and bacteria, yet are suitable for emergency water supply purposes at a reasonable cost.

Solid block activated carbon (SBAC) filtration with pore size 0.5 ΅m or smaller is most effective but are more expensive than granulated types.

Ceramic carbon water filters: Combination filters, when impregnated with silver, have an ability to filter out a broad range of contaminants from the water supply, albeit economically.

Combination systems: Depending on the type of contamination and requirement of the situation, the combination of filters and treatment devices suggested above can also be used effectively.

Sediment filtration is only effective for reducing the large particulates, including turbidity, in preparation for other treatment methods. Certain associated measures that have been successful in certain post disasters are laid out in [Table 13].
Table 13 :Certain associated measures for emergency treatment of raw water

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Only when water supplies are not manageable or have dried out and there is alarming scarcity, then the following option can be attempted. Running the raw water through cotton apparel with multiple folds, six and more, can remove larger contaminants, but bacteria and viruses cannot be effectively filtered, as such, must be followed by disinfection before consumption.

Special precautions must, however, be exercised in possible chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological alike contaminants and must be handled by agencies/departments with requisite expertise.

Disinfection of drinking water

Disinfection of drinking water is a pre-requisite for the safety of drinking water. It is necessary for making drinking water safe for human consumption by using various methods/disinfectants. The disinfectants should be cheaper, economical or easy to operate/handle, store, maintain, widely used and often readily available in solution, and powder or tablet forms. Commonly used methods of disinfection in disaster situations are detailed subsequently.

There are several other physical and chemical methods of disinfection of drinking water. However, attempt should be made to use the simplest method depending upon the situation and local mechanism for effective management. Native intelligence and wisdom can be pooled for drinking water treatment in emergent situations, only if chlorination or any other kind of disinfection is not possible.

Physical methods constitute boiling and filtration through ceramic filters, amongst others. Chemical methods are disinfection by chlorine and chlorine compounds (hypochlorite, chloramines, chlorine dioxide, bleaching powder), calcium hypochlorite, sodium hypochlorite, potassium permanganate, iodine solution, organic iodine compounds, stabilized oxygen, ozone, ultraviolet radiation at certain wavelengths, etc.

Chlorination is a popular method for effective disinfection that does not reduce other contaminants. Iodine is a very effective disinfectant for drinking water, if followed by effective filtering system to eliminate protozoa or boiling. Nevertheless, pregnant women and thyroid patients should not be provided drinking water from this process. Stabilized oxygen, effective like a 0.2 ΅m ceramic drinking water filter, must be used for very short periods, i.e., for 2 days during emergency periods. Solar disinfection is also one of the other nonconventional methods.

Although there are numerous other disinfectants and processes in use, but disinfection by chlorination is very popular in disaster situations and otherwise. Chlorine persists in residual form to safe guard against recontamination, is easily detectable and is acceptable by human beings. The norms generally followed are given in [Table 14].
Table 14 :Norms for disinfection by chlorination

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Chlorine level monitoring: Various means for controlling the dosage of chlorine in the drinking water supply are available like handy/pocket size chloroscope/chlorine comparator kits or other methods like color test, thiosulfate test, orthotoluidine (OT) test, orthotoluidine arsenite (OTA) test, neutral red test, etc. Certified, feasible and available means can be adopted for such use.

   Environmental Impact Top

Rampant, scattered and unplanned disposal of toxic wastes generated by treatment, purification and disinfectants is a cause of serious concern due to the associated health hazards.

Identification and regularization of the landfills for safe disposal of the toxic sludge, slurry and brine solution along with disinfection byproducts from the drinking water treatment units should be undertaken to curtail contamination by their leaching into groundwater resources.

The situation is exacerbated in coastal regions and areas subjected to periodic flooding. The potable or mobile treatment units that are deployed for providing safe water generate brine, sludge, slurry, etc., which must be safely disposed to avoid resultant and slow setting secondary disasters.

   Certain Arising Issues and Meriting Considerations Top

Actions to consider

Our country's diverse cultural and social attributes require extreme restraint in generalization or a fit all solutions approach. Also, would be pertinent to mention that the policy makers must be wary of the subtle pressures and careful of the influence exerted by the international agencies, while evolving and establishing standards.


The response is largely dependent on the support, advocacy, participation, vulnerability and coordination amongst the community-health workers, officials and leaders, etc. Further, the coping capacities and strategies of the local community greatly influence the scale of response generated. Ensuring greater participation necessitates impetus of motivational attitude developed through inclusive and collaborative learning and providing inspiration to the excluded sections of the society.

Individual water needs: Generalization

There are a number of factors that influence the needs of a human being. Standards of safe and wholesome water in relief must be evolved after ensuring availability, access, prioritizing accessibility and inclusion of marginalized sections of our society, as per vulnerability. States must arrive at the appropriate requirements of water in their regional settings, adjusted as per medical advice for the parameters provided in [Table 15].
Table 15 :Aspects determining individual water requirements

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Local level administrative responsibilities

Determination of immediate response mechanisms, the kind and extent, to be adopted and level of resources required to be deployed is in itself a very difficult task. Similarly, the operational and logistical operations in providing survival needs of drinking water supplies should accordingly be planned and managed locally to the extent possible.

Further matters pertaining to disrupted drinking water facilities need to be resolved immediately to make them functional. Reviving, restoring and rehabilitating drinking water works by means of available related inventory, storages in all forms, the treatment, and disinfection and distribution requires elaborate rearrangements and requisitions.

Then, there are the constraints of managing finances, manpower, OandM requirements, operatability of transportation, etc. for preparing an implementable plan with a time frame. Yet, these sum up in humanitarian responses by remedial measures for each activity, enabling setting of priorities for managing the relief operations efficiently.

Such supplies generally cannot be managed at individual levels but require adequate state preparedness to mitigate the effects of a disaster or emergency situation in management of water supplies to the affected people.

Factors influencing the physiological requirements

The level of operations to be undertaken and the comfort zone of the people in the relief camps, emphasizing the security of the vulnerable people including women and children, is determined by the extent of distribution mechanisms that can be established. Providing an equitable and impartial access to drinking water for all the inhabitants of a relief camp and effective drinking water distribution reduces exposure to crime, violence and abuse in the relief camps.


Transportation is a major logistic operation and it requires a fleet of vehicles and/or means of ferrying water, in case of scarcity, with proper arrangements for frequent maintenance and related manpower.

Winding up relief

Similarly, all said and done, winding up/exit strategy of a relief camp also carries its own share of responsibilities. The temporary or permanent assets created under or for relief must not be abandoned but handed over properly to the designated authorities for their future use, operations and maintenance, if any. The unused inventories should be reverted back to the respective stores and packaged drinking water lying unused, and having shelf life, has to be relocated appropriately.

Revival, restoration and rehabilitation of drinking water facilities

In a disaster or emergency situation, the anticipated damages to the drinking water supply components can extend anywhere from and to breach of reservoirs, dams, barrages, bridges, contaminated drinking water bodies or resources and intrusion or ingress by saline waters. Other probabilities are uprooted and damaged conveying mains, electrical installations, pumping machineries, service lines, treatment systems, and storage and distribution network.

Such situations might also result in shortage of manpower, restricted logistics or no accessibility, loss of stores/inventories, disruption of essential services, communication failure, etc. Contingency action plans must contain provisions for facilitating and implementing emergency restoration and revival actions.

In restoration, while encountering restricted physical access and contamination to the drinking water facilities, various interventions might be required. The extent of damage to the drinking water supplies will necessitate a variety of approaches for revival of disrupted/damaged drinking water facilities.

The normal rehabilitation works must also be undertaken simultaneously to restore the normal functioning of drinking water supply systems. Necessary repairs will have to be undertaken to make the drinking water supply operational without delay. Strengthening drinking water distribution systems for providing potable water supplies in the relief camp(s) shall require enhancing capacities for tackling an emergent situation efficiently.

Monitoring of preparedness for relief activities

Preparations for effective response, risk reduction and risk management entails planning and training by conducting different types of simulation exercises.

   Certain Important and Relevant Provisions Top

National perspective

A High Powered Committee (HPC) on disaster management, constituted in 1999, identified various disasters and grouped them into five sub-groups considering the related nature of disasters as provided in [Table 16].
Table 16 :Groupings considering the related nature of disasters - HPC

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The State/UT/District authorities must evolve their own norms to take emergency measures for making the water supply facilities functional.

International obligations and humanitarian aid/relief

Sometimes disasters and/or emergency situations occur beyond the realms of uncertainty and the resultant impact/consequences exceed the coping capabilities of a nation. In the international perspective, suitable sectoral guidelines, norms and standards laid down by various umbrella aid organizations must be referred while undertaking trans-boundary, trans-national relief or aid operations.

   Acknowledgment Top

The author is thankful to all the members of NDMA's Core Group and Steering Committee on Water, for their help in collating and compiling the knowledge. I am grateful to Lt. Gen. J.R. Bhardwaj, Hon'ble Member, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), for useful discussions.[18]

   References Top

1.BIS -Bureau of Indian Standards. Available from: [Last accessed on Jun 20].  Back to cited text no. 1      
2.CPHEEO - The Central Public Health and Environmental Engineering Organization Available from: [Last accessed on Jun 20].  Back to cited text no. 2      
3.DDWS - Department of Drinking Water Supplies - MoRD Ministry of Rural Development Available from: [Last accessed on Jun 20].  Back to cited text no. 3      
4.MoUD -Ministry of Urban Development available from: [Last accessed on Jun 20].  Back to cited text no. 4      
5.MoWR - Ministry of Water Resources Available from: [Last accessed on Jun 20].  Back to cited text no. 5      
6.IFRCRCS -International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Available from: [Last accessed on Jun 20].  Back to cited text no. 6      
7.Norwegian Refugee Council - Camp Toolkit Available from: [Last accessed on Jun 20].  Back to cited text no. 7      
8.OCHA -Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Available from: [Last accessed on Jun 20].  Back to cited text no. 8      
9.Shelter Project Available from: [Last accessed on Jun 20].  Back to cited text no. 9      
10.Sphere Project Available from: [Last accessed on Jun 20].  Back to cited text no. 10      
11.UNDAC -United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination Available from: [Last accessed on Jun 20].  Back to cited text no. 11      
12.UNDP -United Nations Development Programme Available from: [Last accessed on Jun 20].  Back to cited text no. 12      
13.UNHCR -United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Availabe from: [Last accessed on Jun 20].  Back to cited text no. 13      
14.UNICEF -United Nations Children′s Fund/ United Nations International Children′s Emergency Fund Available from: [Last accessed on Jun 20].  Back to cited text no. 14      
15.USAID -United States Agency for International Development avaialbele from: [Last accessed on Jun 20].  Back to cited text no. 15      
16.US-EPA -United States - Environmental Protection Agency Avaialble from: [Last accessed on Jun 20].  Back to cited text no. 16      
17.WEDC -Water Engineering and Development Centre Available from: [Last accessed on Jun 20].  Back to cited text no. 17      
18.WHO -World Health Organization Avaialble from: [Last accessed on Jun 20].  Back to cited text no. 18      


  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5], [Table 6], [Table 7], [Table 8], [Table 9], [Table 10], [Table 11], [Table 12], [Table 13], [Table 14], [Table 15], [Table 16]

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