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Safe Water Flows for Southeast Asia on the Fifth Anniversary of the Tsunami

by Staff
December 28, 2009
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MEDIA ADVISORY, ( -- Five years after an earthquake and massive wave struck and devastated much of Sri Lanka and Indonesia the day after Christmas, relief efforts initiated by Water Missions International are still providing sustainable access to safe water for hundreds of thousands of people in communities that were nearly destroyed by the South Asian Tsunami.

In addition to the immediate loss of life suffered by those unfortunate enough to be in the path of the water as it crashed onto land in the Indian Ocean region, disease and lack of access to basic necessities threatened to bring the death toll much higher. While a number of areas affected had previously had safe water, the destruction of basic infrastructure and flooding and contamination of ground water posed an immediate risk to those who survived the initial disaster. People can live for several weeks without food, but only a few days without water.

After the disaster, Water Missions International collaborated with relief organizations already on the ground assessing the need for safe water, necessary to control the spread of water-borne diseases. Within a few days, Living Water(tm) Treatment Systems were air lifted to the hardest hit areas and trained volunteers were on the ground providing thousands of gallons of safe drinking water a day through portable water purification systems.

Water Missions International (WMI), a Christian engineering non-profit, provides sustainable access to safe water and shares the Lord's love through their work in developing countries and disaster areas. Founded by George and Molly Greene in 2001, WMI provides water treatment systems or Living Water(tm) Treatment Systems (LWTS(tm)) that are portable by pick-up truck, easily assembled, simple to operate, and designed for rugged conditions. Each system can filter and treat contaminated water to produce 10,000 or more gallons of safe drinking water a day. In a disaster situation, that is enough water to sustain 3,000-5,000 people a day. The units pump surface water through a series of filters that treat the water to safe drinking water standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"The gift of water opens the door to recovery before food, clothing or shelter is brought to an area following a natural disaster," said Molly F. Greene, Vice Chairman and Chief Philanthropy Officer. She and her husband, George C. Greene, III, were among the WMI volunteers dispatched to Banda Aceh, the hardest hit area in Indonesia.

"The response to the crisis shifted WMI's volunteers and staff in Charleston into high gear," said George C. Greene IV, WMI's Vice President of International Programs.

To meet the demand for water purification units, WMI volunteers and staff went from assembling 20 units annually to 25 units weekly for six consecutive weeks. The units were then airlifted to both Indonesia and Sri Lanka, and placed in areas where they were most needed. George IV supervised the installation of nine purification units at Kalmunai, Sri Lanka, which pumped safe water into military bladders from which water trucks filled their tanks and distributed safe drinking water to the displaced persons camps and surrounding areas.

After the water subsided in Sri Lanka, WMI volunteers Richard Johnson and Brian Peterson arrived in June at Kattankundi where the tidal surge destroyed homes and wells. The Tsunami had pushed a wave of water three hundred yards inland. Their job, coordinated by Julio and Elsa Paula, WMI Sri Lanka Country Coordinators from 2005-2009, was to help transition the LWTS(tm) from disaster relief to community development projects.

"We installed four systems in that town, one of them was in the courtyard of a mosque and at a school. We treated the water from contaminated wells," said Johnson, an Isle of Palms resident and a retired DuPont electrical engineer. "A young men's Muslim organization took over the distribution of the water. The units are easy to operate," he said. "We set them up, teach people how to operate and maintain them. They don't require a lot of technical skills."

As the crisis faded from the headlines, WMI didn't leave. Through the generous contributions from donors, WMI shifted its disaster response to community development projects, installing water purifications units in 149 communities throughout both countries. Many of those who suffered from the Tsunami had not had safe water in their communities and villages before the disaster. As they grew accustomed to the safe water provided by WMI, they did not want to lose access to it when they moved back to their homes. In both Indonesia and Sri Lanka, full time country coordinators and directors had been hired to oversee the implementation of LWTS(tm) into local communities, where they could continue to provide safe water.

Today, five years after the initial disaster and years after many other agencies and the public have forgotten the needs of Indonesia and Sri Lanka, Water Missions International is still providing hundreds of thousands gallons of safe water to Tsunami victims. In addition, they have staff working in Honduras, Haiti, Mexico, Kenya, Uganda, and Malawi and have installed over 700 safe water systems in over 38 countries worldwide since 2001. Over 1.6 million people now have access to safe water because of the ongoing efforts of this Charleston, SC - based organization.

Perhaps Charleston, SC Mayor Joseph P. Riley described it best when he said, "The units continue to give clean drinking water and the impact of the gift continues to foment good will and the knowledge that this community and Water Missions cares for its fellow man, even halfway across the world. Thank You, Water Missions International and the caring and giving community of this area."

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