Within two days after Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, Water Missions International had staff on the ground in the Pacific island nation, assessing the damage and setting up systems to provide clean drinking water. Now, just over a week after the storm, the organization estimates that its water purification systems are serving the daily drinking-water needs of 70,000 people. By the end of the week, WMI plans to mobilize enough equipment to provide for the daily drinking-water needs of 315,000 people in the hard weeks to come.
WMI, a Christian nonprofit organization based in North Charleston, works year-round to provide safe water through 10 international offices with indigenous staff, including in Honduras, Indonesia, Uganda, Malawi, and Mexico. Volunteers assemble filtration and chlorination systems at WMI's Navy Yard headquarters before shipping them abroad. In this case, the organization rushed the systems to the Philippines on cargo jets thanks to a sponsorship from FedEx and a partnership with Samaritan's Purse.
"Logistics is the most difficult challenge right now. Relief workers are walking into places where there is absolutely no infrastructure," says Anna Nodtvedt, WMI's social communications coordinator. "It's a challenge. We've got to support relief workers so they can also do the relief work that needs to be done."
So far, water purification systems have been set up at locations including a hospital and a fire department in the hard-hit city of Tacloban, and WMI plans to send three additional engineers this week to help with the relief effort. They will join four other team members who are already on the ground in Tacloban, Cebu City, and Manila.
Whereas other relief agencies ship pallets of water bottles during disaster response, WMI seeks to set up sustainable water systems that can filter locally sourced water and can eventually be maintained by locals instead of aid workers. They're also committed to the long haul. In Haiti, for example, where a deadly 2010 earthquake was followed by a widespread cholera outbreak, WMI is still working to provide safe water nearly four years later.
In the Philippines, WMI employees are working in coordination with international relief agencies including UNICEF and Samaritan's Purse. George Greene IV, president and COO of WMI, says the organization's previous experience working in island nations could prove to be an asset.
"We are fortunate that our extensive experience working in Indonesia, another country of island chains, brings an understanding of the unique logistics requirements to move equipment and people across multiple islands. It is challenging," Greene says. "There could be isolated pockets of people all over the place, but Water Missions International has experience in these type of conditions and we are working to provide as much relief as possible."
Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful typhoons in recorded history, resulted in more than 4,000 deaths and displaced more than 4 million people after making landfall on Nov. 8, according to the latest figures from the United Nations.
Nodtvedt says WMI's ability to ship purification systems and provide services on the ground "is always bottlenecked by availability of funding," so the organization has set up a fund specifically for disaster relief in the Philippines. To donate to that fund, click here and choose "Typhoon Haiyan" in the Designation menu. All donations designated for Typhoon Haiyan will go directly to current Philippine relief efforts and will not be reserved for future disasters.