How to spot someone drowning

Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., has formulated The Instinctive Drowning Response. It describes what people do to avoid drowning and is not like what most of us believe drowning looks like. Apparently, in 10 percent of drownings people nearby have no idea the victim is in trouble. Read about the Instinctive Drowning Response in this article […] Continue Reading

Water treatment methods

Outbreaks of waterborne illnesses are one of the biggest risks after a calamity. It's vital that survivors have access to clean water for drinking and washing. As a general guideline, America's website recommends households store at least 4 liters (1 gallon) of water per person, per day and and have a minimum of three days supply per person. These figures are likely to be too low for a country like the Philippines with its tropical climate and scattered islands. No matter how much you store, supplies may eventually run low before infrastructure is restored or relief arrives so it's important to know how to treat water before drinking. Here's a summary of a few simple methods that use equipment or ingredients accessible to most Philippine households.


Many of us, especially those who have spent time the provinces, may remember our parents and grandparents boiling water for drinking. It's still the safest method of treating water but it does consume fuel. To boil water for drinking:
  1. Put some water in a pot or kettle. Make sure the water has been filtered of debris, sediment and has not been contaminated by chemicals.
  2. Boil the water until it's bubbling vigorously for one full minute.
  3. After boiling, let it cool before drinking.

Chlorination with household bleach

  1. Add approx. 2-4 drops of bleach per liter of water (approx. 16 drops per gallon).
  2. Stir and leave it for 30 minutes.
  3. The water should have a slight bleach smell after 30 minutes.
  4. If you don't smell any bleach, treat the water again and wait an additional 15 minutes.
  5. Do not use the water if it still doesn't smell of bleach after the second treatment.
Make sure you use a new bottle of plain household chlorine bleach (5.25 to 6.0 percent sodium hypochlorite) with no additives. Opened and older bleach bottles may have lost its potency over time. More information: FEMA and American Red Cross guide: Food and Water in an Emergency (PDF download).

Solar water disinfection (SODIS)

Solar water disinfection, or SODIS is a new method that's starting to gain acceptance in tropical countries. It's simple, free and uses low-tech, easy-to-find materials. The World Health Organisation, UNICEF, and the Red Cross recommend the SODIS method for treating drinking water in developing countries.
Pictogram showing the SODIS method
Pictogram showing the SODIS method by Samuel Luzi, Fundacion SODIS
See related article: A cheap and effective way to disinfect water in tropical countries.

Other water treatment methods

There are many other methods you can use to create potable water for your family. However, they need more research, practice or require equipment or supplies that aren't so readily available.

Chemical contamination

Most of these methods work by killing disease-causing micro-organisms in the water. Unless you distill the water or use an appropriate filter, any chemical contaminants will remain in the water. It's therefore important to stay way from water that may have been fouled by dangerous chemicals. Continue Reading

The warning signs of drowning

The Philippines is a nation of islands yet many children do not know how to swim. Aside from teaching our children to swim, we should also look out for the warning signs of drowning because as this article says, drowning doesn’t look like it does in the movies.
[Drowning] is the No. 2 cause of accidental death in [American] children, ages 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents)—of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In some of those drownings, the adult will actually watch the child do it, having no idea it is happening. Look for these other signs of drowning when persons are in the water:
  • Head low in the water, mouth at water level
  • Head tilted back with mouth open
  • Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
  • Eyes closed
  • Hair over forehead or eyes
  • Not using legs—vertical
  • Hyperventilating or gasping
  • Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
  • Trying to roll over on the back
  • Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder
Read the full article: Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning. Continue Reading

Rainwater catchment techniques used in Hawaii

With so many techniques and case-studies for building rainwater catchment systems available, it's a wonder why we have to suffer water shortages in the Philippines. The University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources has detailed guidelines on building a rainwater catchment system. Since the Philippines faces similar environmental challenges, many of the recommendations can apply to us. The document covers practical areas such as:
  • Design and building materials to be used
  • Types of water tanks
  • Placement of water runoff to avoid undermining foundations
  • Dealing with water contamination from dead animals, organic decomposition and acid rain
  • Water treatment and testing
You can download the document from their website.
Image of homestead in Hawaii with rainwater catchment system

Preventing mosquito infestation

Mosquito breeding and infestation is a major concern in tropical climates like the Philippines. Nonoy Oplas commented on our Prepare Manila Facebook group, "Some [Philippine] households use the basic tech--which are huge drums storing rain water. Problem is that after just a few days, mosquitoes invade these drums, and thousands of new mosquitoes will come out a few days after, and malaria, dengue, other mosquito-borne diseases can expand." The first-flush diverters, screens and gutter guards detailed in the document are supposed to help prevent mosquito infestation. Philippine versions are probably prone to mosquito breeding because they rarely use these additions. Also, local maintainers may lack basic education and housekeeping practices. In almost any city, town and village, I see many sources of standing water where people don't bother to clear up buckets and junk like tires, old plastic containers and boxes. According to my research, there are some simple practices for preventing mosquitoes from breeding:
  1. Emptying any water holding containers
  2. Regularly cleaning gutters
  3. Fitting rain heads, flap valves and mesh gutter guards
  4. Installing a first flush water diverter to help prevent particles, eggs and larvae from reaching the main system
  5. Using mesh screens and ensuring they're in good repair
  6. Using mosquito repellants such as citronella grass
This video from gives an overview of these practices. Continue Reading

A cheap and effective way to disinfect water in tropical countries

There are many ways to make water safe for drinking. One method that's starting to gain acceptance in tropical countries is solar water disinfection, or SODIS, because it is simple, practically free and uses low-tech, easy-to-find materials. The World Health Organisation, UNICEF, and the Red Cross recommend the SODIS method for treating drinking water in developing countries.
Pictogram showing the SODIS method
Pictogram showing the SODIS method by Samuel Luzi, Fundacion SODIS

How to apply the SODIS method to make safe drinking water

The process uses sunlight to disinfect water stored in common PET bottles which are used for soft-drinks. It works because sunlight contains radiation that kills pathogens including bacteria, viruses and parasites that cause diarrhea.
  1. Collect some colorless, transparent PET soft-drink bottles that will contain no more than 2 liters of liquid. Choose bottles that have few surface scratches and blemishes. Remove any labels and wash well with clean water. Sunlight may not penetrate the water adequately if the bottles are too large or heavily scratched.
  2. Fill the bottle three-quarters full with the water to be disinfected, screw on the cap and shake well for 20 seconds. After shaking, fill the bottle with more water but leave a space at the top for air, then screw on the lid once again. This step oxygenates the water which helps speed up the disinfection process.
  3. Expose the bottle to sunlight. A good place is on a sloped surface facing the sun, like a corrugated iron sheet roof. The length of exposure depends on your weather conditions.
  4. Once treated, the water should be stored in and consumed directly from the bottles to avoid re-contaminating the water.
Suggested exposure times
Weather conditions Minimum exposure duration
Sunny (less than 50% cloud cover) 6 hours
Cloudy (50-100% cloudy, with little or no rain) 2 days
Continuous rainfall The SODIS method cannot be reliably used to disinfect water

Important considerations

  • The SODIS method kills pathogens in the water but does not remove toxic chemicals.
  • Turbid (cloudy) water must first be filtered to remove the particles before being used to fill bottles.
  • Old bottles that are scratched or discolored should be replaced.
  • PET or PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles should be used. The easiest way to find out if a bottle is made out of PET is to look for the recycling mark shown below. 1 is the resin identification code for PETE or PET.
    PET resin identification code: 1
    PET resin identification code stamp


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After a disaster, beware of diarrhea

The aftermath of a disaster can often kill more people than the disaster itself and one of the main risks is disease. Poor sanitation caused by the disruption often leads to outbreaks of acute diarrhea. We saw this during Typhoon Ondoy where diarrhea was one of the top killers in evacuation centers. It was also a huge problem in post-earthquake Haiti when a cholera epidemic infected 1,500 people in just a few days. Even during normal times, diarrhea is the 3rd leading cause of child illness and the 4th leading cause of deaths among children less than 5 years in the Philippines. Diarrhea kills through rapid dehydration and children are especially susceptible as they can succumb in a matter of hours. Nevertheless, deaths can be prevented by simply making sure that the patient drinks a lot of clean water with oral rehydration salts. Unfortunately, these are difficult to find after a disaster. Aid workers in Haiti were distressed to find that many were dying for want of something that costs so little.

Simple ways to safeguard your family

There's no reason why your family should suffer from an outbreak of diarrhea.
  • Stock up on Oral Rehydration Salts. These are available from Watsons and Mercury Drug for around Php10 to Php15 per sachet.
  • Stock up on antidiarrheal medications like Diatabs (Loperamide) which are less than Php30 for four capsules.
  • Make sure you have access to clean water for drinking and washing.
  • Eat cooked food or food washed well in clean water.
  • As much as possible, continue with your usual sanitation habits.
Oral Rehydration Salts and Diatabs
Oral Rehydration Salts and Diatabs

Household alternatives

If you don't have any commercially produced ORS at home, suggests the following alternatives:
  • Breastmilk
  • Gruels (diluted mixtures of cooked cereals and water)
  • Carrot Soup
  • Rice water (congee)
  • Fresh fruit juice
  • Weak tea
  • Green coconut water (buko juice)
  • A home-made solution of salt, sugar and if possible, orange juice or mashed banana (see link for recipe and instructions)
Remember: make sure you first check with your pediatrician if these alternatives are suitable for your child.

Additional resources

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Water storage for condo dwellers

Water is always at the top of any disaster preparedness list as it's essential for survival. The generally accepted guideline is to set side 4 liters (1 gallon) of water per person, per day, for drinking and sanitation. Keep in mind that in a tropical country like the Philippines, even the slightest physical exertion is going to leave you dripping with perspiration, thereby causing your body to lose valuable water reserves. While water storage options are readily available, the biggest problem is that they tend to be bulky and need cycling to prevent a build up of harmful bacteria. This can be especially problematic in condo units where space is a premium. Being a condo dweller in Metro Manila with a wife and water-intensive baby, I know first-hand how difficult this can be. The solution I've found is to keep water caches in locations where they have practical every-day use. For example, a plastic jerry can with tap kept by the kitchen sink acts as water storage. Once in a while, we use it for washing dishes before topping up the jerry can with fresh tap water. Plastic jerry cans for water storage The clear plastic jerry can in the picture above holds 20 liters, which is enough to last one person for around 5 days. The blue plastic jerry cans hold just over 6 liters each. These can be purchased from hardware stores like Ace Hardware and True Value. (The 20 liter can was approximately Php300 and the blue 6 liter cans are Php49.) We also keep additional jerry cans in a cupboard and bottled mineral water in the fridge and pantry, as well as a balde (water bucket) in the shower. In total, I estimate that my wife, baby and I can go almost two weeks just using the stored water in our one-bedroom condo unit.

Note: be sure to store as much of your water as possible at floor level. If stored high up, such as on shelving, movement during an earthquake could cause them to fall. This not only risks injuring someone but also means you lose some of your water reserves. Continue Reading