What are the hygienic ways of managing public conveniences in a post-disaster situation?

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Communicable diseases or epidemics need not occur in the post-disaster situation unless large number of peoples are evacuated or displaced from their homes and placed in the crowded and insanitary campus.

The sanitary deficiencies in these campuses may expose the habitats of the camps to serious health hazard during their stay over there. Proper disposal of excreta and solid waste and vector control are of primary importance and require immediate attention. We shall discuss here some of the hygiene ways of managing public conveniences in post-disaster situation.

i) Excreta Disposal:

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Unsatisfactory disposal of excreta is common after natural disasters. In the absence of proper sanitation measures, any of the following may result:

  • More flies and more breeding places
  • Unpleasant smells
  • Underground and ground water contamination
  • Food contamination by flies
  • Increase in disease incidence

a) Existing Sewerage System:

The sewerage system and treatment plant may be put out of service due to natural disaster. Earthquake may destroy the sewerage network, pumping station or treatment plans. Similarly, floods may block the sewerage system and inundate the treatment plant. Immediately after any disaster situation, a detailed survey must be carried out and a damage report must be prepared. Based on this report various measures can be taken on high priority.

  • Rapid repair of sewers, with temporary arrangements to bypass damaged section,
  • Cleaning blocked sewers,
  • Disinfecting the treatment plant after dewatering format and making it operational;
  • Temporary arrangement for discharging sewage.

b) Temporary Shelter and Camps:

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For temporary shelters, the appropriate sanitation measures are necessary. The choice is usually between shared and individual facilities. Individual family facilities are always preferred, as the satisfactory maintenance of shared facilities is always a problem. But most of the time, individual family facilities are not possible and only shared facilities can be provided for relief campus.

During the identification and development of the camp, the first priority must be to designate a specific area for people to excrete. The method requires a very careful supervision and management to keep pollution at a minimum. Men, women and children must be encouraged to use it and prevented from defecating in the open. This area must be fenced and must be kept clean by regular removal of excreta from the site and use of disinfection.

Open surface defecation, if it has be restored to, can be improved by digging shallow or deep trenches into which people can excrete directly. In this method, the faeces can be covered with fresh soil on daily basis to get better sanitation.

Other methods recommended for post-disaster sanitation are aqua privy, mobile latrine and separate urinals.

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ii) Solid Disposal:

The accumulation of refuse or rubbish in a camp can constitute a health risk. The rubbish either is buried, burnt or remove from the campsite. To expedite the disposal of refuse, separate containers for storing and collection of organic and inorganic wastes must be utilized. The refuse thus collected must be disposed off either through sanitary landfill, incineration or burial.

In the rural areas, special care must be taken for the collection and disposal of animal dung. The best method of disposal is to bury it into trenches. Another serious problem in post-disaster stage is the disposal of dead animals. Burial is the only solution for big animals while burning is feasible for small animals like cats and dogs. When carcasses are large, it is not possible to burry all of them without heavy excavation equipments. The carcasses awaiting burial should be sprinkled with kerosene to protest them from the predatory animals.

The waste water from make shift hospitals, water points, mass feeding centers and milk distribution centers must be disposed off properly. The usual way is to drain away this water into a soak pit.

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Vector Control:

The post-disaster situations are most favorable for rapid increase in the population of insects and rodents. These can create a health risk and soil and destroy large quantities of food items, which are already scarce in disaster emergencies. The vector problem generally develops in densely crowded conditions where sanitation conditions are inadequate. Flies, fleas, lice, mites, mosquitoes and bedbugs are disease vectors that develop in uncontrolled environment. Vector control must follow a definite plan and programme. Special teams must be organized to control various types of vectors. The team leader must have adequate knowledge and experience in combating this type of situation.

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