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Asia

German Red Cross brings clean water to Pakistan

There are lots of Germans in Pakistan's flood-affected regions, taking part in the relief efforts and often working in very difficult conditions. One German Red Cross team in Sindh is providing clean drinking water.

A German Red Cross water filter system near Sajawal in Sindh

A German Red Cross water filter system near Sajawal in Sindh

The floodwaters have finally drained away in Sajawal but most businesses remain closed. There are puddles everywhere. Claus Muchow from the German Red Cross says that it looked very different a few days ago.

The German Red Cross uses crates that can be transformed into furniture

The German Red Cross uses crates that can be transformed into furniture

"It was a ghost town – there was nobody here. You could just about get through with an SUV but you couldn’t see anything below the fender. That’s how deep the water was all over the city. The people are now coming back and they obviously need to be provided with clean drinking water."

Enormous water cushion

The Red Cross has set up a simple tap system from a water tank that looks like an enormous cushion containing thousands of liters.

The water comes from a canal just two kilometers away from Sajawal, explains Muchow. "It’s an irrigation canal for agriculture but it's the only flowing water that we have at the moment. I wouldn’t say the water quality is perfect. In this part of Pakistan, the water is full of algae and rather muddy. We have to make sure that there is as little sediment as possible in the water. The easier it is to prepare the water, the fewer chemicals we need, and then we get more liters out an hour."

Claus Muchow is no stranger to crises, from Kosovo to Haiti

Claus Muchow is no stranger to crises, from Kosovo to Haiti

At the treatment station, the water is mixed with aluminium sulphate in order to remove suspended sediment. It is then run through a sand filter and an activated charcoal filter. Finally, chlorine is added to kill any remaining germs and so that the water can be stored in the heat.

Chlorine taste takes some getting used to

For many of the flood victims, the taste of chlorine takes some getting used to. In the neighboring town of Thatta, the authorities have set up a camp called "Jail City" in a space where a prison was under construction. Until now the flood victims could only get water from a cistern which the local authorities had filled with untreated water from a nearby canal. The Red Cross has now put three 11,000-liter water tanks at their disposal.

"We can drink the water," says one man. "But where we used to live, we took our water with hand pumps from the ground. This water is totally different. But we have to drink it here."

Muchow and his five team members from Germany and Austria have heard such comments before and they just smile. They and their five filtering systems have been travelling across Pakistan over the past few weeks, with the floods.

Chimney sweep by day

Claus Muchow is used to natural disasters – he was recently in Haiti after January’s earthquake. But he never stays long, he explains.

This water tank can contain up to 5,000 liters

This water tank can contain up to 5,000 liters

"I'm not really in the water business – I usually work as a chimney sweep near Munster. But I came across the Red Cross 15 years ago during the Kosovo crisis and now I take part in emergency relief operations. I help build up structures in the first few weeks after a catastrophe strikes."

He and his team will soon leave Pakistan but the German Red Cross will stay in the region to help out with long-term reconstruction efforts. The next team will probably move into Muchow’s flat in Thatta. They will have the same furniture too – the German Red Cross has a system where the crates used to transport emergency goods can also be used as tables and shelves.

Author: Thomas Baerthlein
Editor: Anne Thomas

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