Clean Water & Sanitation: Challenge #1

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an image of Hurricane Irma’s impact on Cuba via CBC

Climate change has led to a recent surge in hurricanes. News reports have been flooded with the terrifying consequences of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma. We are now faced with confronting the forces of nature in an unprecedented way—and it’s only the beginning of hurricane season.

You’re not imagining it; global warming is causing more extreme weather. For every degree increase in temperature, air holds 7% more water, leading to havoc-wreaking conditions.

Most recently, Hurricane Irma has caused over 7 million people to lose power in the United States, primarily in Florida. When entire cities lose power, sanitation is a significant issue, as normal sewage and sanitation systems are overloaded. Many toilets, especially in multi-level buildings in urban centers, do not operate without electricity. Sewage and sanitation systems also rely heavily on access to power.

While many people choose to evacuate, there are also those who choose to or are forced to stay—in both their homes and in shelters. In many situations, those people lack electricity and a proper way to dispose of garbage and waste—especially in overcrowded shelters.

A Newsweek report after Hurricane Harvey summarizes the various concerns associated with post-hurricane shelters in Houston, Texas. More than 30,000 residents were forced into shelters, where communicable diseases have a high chance of spreading. It was noted that the potential for spreading bacteria grows as more people share bathrooms. The buildup of defecation and trash can exacerbate the spread of germs and ultimately, disease.

Bacteria in floodwater is also poses a severe risk to humans. With all of these potential sanitation issues, it is important to think about the ways in which health can be preserved at these shelters, which leads us up to this crucial and timely design challenge:

Design a household sanitation mechanism that would be distributed at evacuation centers during disasters.

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