Earthquake Christchurch water, toilets, sanitation

I’ve been around the tropics for about 20 years and have – I hope – both developed and picked up some useful ways of operating when toilets, showers, water are all in desperately short supply.
Today, as I write this, just a few days after our latest earthquake, it is raining and many people are in dire need of water for showers, cleaning dishes and clothes.
The thoughts below don’t seem to fit well with the response of government agencies. With regard to water, we seem more enamoured with water distillation and 1.5 litre bottles delivered at great cost. Almost no mention of using water falling out of the sky! It is as though our forebears have nothing to teach us. The ideas here are very simple, zero or minimal cost and operate at family level, in places where the portaloo and delivered water haven’t reached. Take what you will of these suggestions. They are things that hunters and old time campers would do without thinking.
Here are some thoughts about water.
You are camping, in the middle of a broken city, without sewerage, water and power. I live outside the affected zone, but was in shovelling silt and sand yesterday in my old home area of Wainoni. It seems to be an area where out in the least helped area of Christchurch.
If a portaloo is handy – use it. However, where I was yesterday, not far from Porritts park, there were no signs of civil defence action etc. While govt/civil services are overwhelmed locals have to act to protect their lives and safety.
Your downpipes are wasting your roof’s water. Remove the clips that hold them in place so you can start to collect water- in anything at all! Clean containers for drinking, and not so clean containers will still do for a shower later, or dish washing.
Remember, while it is raining- get out and shower!

I figured even plastic shopping bags can hold water- and yes, some of them do! When they have tiny pin prick holes, but two or three together- they’ll hold some water for some hours. Remember we are desperate for water- enough to do more than drink. Yes, tankers are becoming more available, but, once again, where I was in Eastern CHCH we were a long way from any clean water source (km’s?).
Here’s a few plastic bags storing water. All those milk containers can be used to hold water. Not all water has to be used just for drinking.

We all need water for drinking, but also for washing clothes and dishes. Store water in anything you can find around your home.

After washing dishes, leave them upside down to drain and when sunny, ensure the sun and air dry them and sterilise them. While it’s raining is a great time to really get stuck in and wash a heap of stuff that isn’t clean. On the bonnet or boot of a car, if you don’t have a picnic table to set up outside.
Toilets. Yes, use that portaloo if you have one available. But reality says, many will have to use a hole in the back garden. Make the hole shallow (30-40 cm), rather than deep enough to allow wees and poos directly into the water table. Yesterdays toilet hole I saw was just 1 m deep and it had water in the bottom. That meant toilet effluent was polluting ground water. A shallow hole, very close to drip line of an evergreen tree would mean that more of our effluent would be sucked up by the trees roots and less would enter ground water, polluting the underground water for pumping stations etc.
So shower and toilet – under trees that don’t lose their leaves. Gum trees are great as they suck up heaps of water. Conifer type (pine/macrocarpa) trees are also good. At the property I was at, they had a large conifer with dry soil beneath. That makes a good place to shower. It’s private and water is going to be used by the tree.
Toilet- put two boy racer tyres over the hole with a sheet of ply on top, to keep flies out.
What’s the bit about boy racer tyres? Well, their profile means the tyre itself isn’t going to fill with wees so easily or completely as a standard tyre would.
Here’s another use for those boy racer tyres and the photo shows the profile we are looking for at the base of a stack of 2-3 tyres for the toilet. Top tyre should be smaller and more – yes! comfortable- a normal, small car tyre. Remember the reason for the tyres – provide a seat and an easy system to cover to keep flies out. Flies are real bad news in this kind of emergency.

Cardboard liner, before you start using the toilet will keep all wees and poos going where you want them, into the hole, rather than around the centre of the tyre as it lies on its side.
We’ve been told times to boil water, but with gas and electricity off, many people won’t be able to boil their water. Old time thermettes have disappeared- mostly. Mine is still great. A billy and fire may well be something we should be considering. Obviously gas bbq’s come into their own, but make sure to cover the billy with a lid or plate or frying pan- less energy used to boil the water. Protect the flames from wind- you want the maximum amount of heat boiling your water, not heating the air going by.
Well, there’s some ideas, it will be interesting to hear yours!

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