Menstrual hygiene is a vital as well as a very sensitive issue for women in reproductive ages. In general, women spend around six to seven years of their lives menstruating. Having a safe, personal and cultural environment to manage menstruation hygienically and with dignity is the right of every women. However, the ability to enjoy this right is often far from reality. One reason for this is that menstrual hygiene management is often neglected in general health agendas. This can be seen in emergency situations.
Following the Asian tsunami of 26 December 2004, the vital domestic fresh-water wells in the coastal zone were either scoured out of the ground entirely or filled with salt water, mud, debris and bodies. Emergency teams naturally exerted huge efforts in trying to restore intact wells, first clearing and then pumping them out. However, it soon became apparent little could be done to rehabilitate the wells in the short term due to the massive intrusion of saline groundwater as well as the fundamentally unsatisfactory nature of local water supply and drainage arrangements.
The water supply of the rural coastal areas in Sri Lanka is provided by private open dug wells, most of which have been flooded by sea water during the tsunami. The salinity of the well affected proved not to be the main problem, and early attempts to rehabilitate wells failed. Salinity reduction can only be achieved naturally, through the recharge of the aquifer. The true challenge for rural water supply is represented by bacteriological and agricultural contamination and sustainability of handpumps.
Most households in the districts of Sri Lanka affected by the tsunami possessed drinking water wells, and these wells were contaminated by debris, sludge and saltwater. Once the wells were cleaned, only time and the onset of monsoon rains could reduce the levels of salinity - but local people continued to need information and reassurance about the quality of their water supplies.
Effect of well cleaning and pumping on groundwater quality of a tsunami-affected coastal aquifer in eastern Sri Lanka
Changes in water quality of a sand aquifer on the east coast of Sri Lanka due to the 26 December 2004 tsunami and subsequent remediation attempt by pumping were investigated. Two transects, disturbed (where pumping of groundwater took place) and undisturbed (where no pumping occurred), were monitored. In the undisturbed area, the average electrical conductivity (EC) in the wells affected by the tsunami showed a decrease from 3000 to 1200 μS/cm after the first full rainy season following the disaster; however, in the disturbed area the average EC stabilized around 1500 μS/cm.
Sanitation is an issue often neglected in development decision making. This situation becomes more evident under the extreme conditions of a disaster aftermath, where lack of sanitation can expand from a mere inconvenience to a full-scale secondary disaster causing epidemic outbreaks, permanent degradation of water resources and social unrest. Furthermore neglecting the importance of sanitation during disaster rehabilitation may jeoardize the sustainability of entire rebuilding projects.