Following the catastrophic impact of Hurricane Maria on the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico in late September 2017, access to safe drinking water became an issue of major concern for the affected population.  Pure Hydration has been working with local organizations and supporters in contribution to the ongoing relief effort being provided in Puerto Rico.

Pure Hydration in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has long suffered from infrastructure problems that include the supply of potable water. In a report published in May last year it was stated that “In 2015, 99.5 percent of Puerto Rico’s population was served by community water systems in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act, and 69.4 percent of people on the island were served by water sources that violated SDWA’s health standards.” In December 2017 it was reported that “Over two-thirds of the population of Puerto Rico was at potential risk of exposure to bacterial contamination in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, according to government test results obtained by NRDC. More than 2.3 million Puerto Rican residents were served by water systems which drew at least one sample testing positive for total coliforms or E. coli after Maria devastated the island in September.

Although it is now more than four months on since Hurricane Maria’s landfall, areas remain in Puerto Rico where basic drinking water resources are still not secure from the risk of microbiological and chemical contamination. In early January 2018 an update from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) noted that there are an “estimated 76,000 Puerto Rico residents in over 200 communities across the island that rely on drinking water sources from pumps and wells and surface water that are not supplied by the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority.”  The update continued by stating that “EPA and local government agencies in Puerto Rico continue to recommend that people take precautions when coming in direct contact with water bodies in Puerto Rico, including streams, rivers, and beaches because of the possibility of raw sewage being discharged into some water bodies.

Pure Hydration has been helping the response effort in such remote locations. Funded by private citizen donation from concerned members and friends of the Puerto Rican diaspora in the continental U.S. (who had been recommended to work with us by expert NGO contacts in the humanitarian aid sector), 1500 aquapure traveller™ (APT) individual water purifiers (IWPs) were delivered to Puerto Rico for supply to those at risk from potential waterborne contaminants.

Initial distribution was greatly assisted by the generous time and local expertise provided by Wilnelia Merced, Lady Forsyth. Better known in the UK as the wife of Bruce Forsyth, she is a long standing supporter of underprivileged children through her foundation on her home island, and has been instrumental in ensuring the APTs have been promptly distributed.

aquapure traveller water purification humanitarian aid Puerto Rico Lady Wilnelia Forsyth

With the support of the Office of the First Lady of Puerto Rico, Beatriz Rosselló, and the Puerto Rico National Guard, Wilnelia Merced and Stephanie Del Valle ensure the aquapure traveller is delivered to where it is most needed.

Readily transported to locations that are more difficult to reach, the APT has now also been provided to recipients on the island of Vieques by the charity Fundacion Stefano.  Lying 8 miles east of Puerto Rico, Vieques was initially left cut off and isolated by Hurricane Maria, and has since struggled to recover.  Together with other vital supplies, Fundacion Stefano will continue to make further deliveries in coming weeks including to the outlying small island of Culebra, Cabo Rojo in the far west of Puerto Rico, and Aibonito which suffered from some of the highest rainfall during the hurricane.

Distribution of the aquapure traveller for emergency water purification in Vieques, Puerto Rico

Distribution of the aquapure traveller for personal drinking water purification on Vieques, Puerto Rico. Young and more elderly persons are particularly vulnerable to waterborne disease [Images courtesy of Zorimar Bettencourt, Fundacion Stefano].

The destruction wrought by Hurricane Maria continues to blight the lives of many Puerto Ricans, and the question of water source security will be of increasing concern for those inhabitants who decide to remain on their island. One of the ecological effects of the hurricane was that it stripped the canopy (and water-collecting mosses) of the word famous El Yunque National Forest, and it is feared this defoliation may cause substantial tree death.  The forest captured and channeled billions of gallons of rainfall into the eight major rivers that originate in this location, and which flow to provide 20% of Puerto Rico’s municipal drinking water.

Another highly visible effect of standard disaster relief practice may also begin to be recognised as Puerto Rico valiantly attempts to rebuild (and deal with it’s already considerable  waste problem). The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency has been widely reported to have declared that it has delivered over 65 million litres of bottled water (at a cost of $361m).  Although bottled water is no doubt welcomed by recipients at their time of need, in 2016 the Center for International Disaster Information (CIDI), part of the U.S. Agency for International Development Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), advised that “Donating cash to organizations coordinating water purification systems is 1,166 times less expensive than shipping water to a disaster zone, and generates no plastic trash.

It is now less than four months to the official start of the next Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from 1 June to 30 November (although the high-risk period is typically from mid-August to early October).  To contribute to the protection and future security of the people of Puerto Rico’s, please visit this page today.