Water filters to combat cholera – ShelterBox aid in Somaliland helps families facing drought and disease

Three years of drought in the African state of Somaliland has now left it in the grip of a cholera epidemic caused by dwindling and polluted water supplies. ShelterBox has been distributing water filters and carriers, as well as shelter materials to its nomadic population

Like much of the horn of Africa, Somaliland is enduring failing crops, a parched landscape, and now the scourge of cholera as water sources are contaminated by waste and rotting animal carcasses.

But one thing it doesn’t share with its neighbours is conflict – Somaliland is a peaceful agricultural republic. Most of its 4.5 million people make their living driving cattle in a constant search for water and fertile grazing land. Now, with more than half their livestock wiped out by the unprecedented three-year drought, people drink whatever water they can find.

ShelterBox Operations Coordinator Dave Raybould has just returned to Somaliland. He says, ‘This will be ShelterBox’s third deployment to Somaliland in as many months, and since we were last there the focus has moved from drought to disease, though the two are interconnected.’

‘The search for water is bringing the nomadic rural dwellers into the towns, where overburdened water sources are becoming a source of cholera. Cholera is an entirely treatable disease contracted through polluted and stagnant water, but with some areas reporting 500 cases a day Somaliland’s health resources are overstretched. Among ShelterBox’s aid package is the ‘thirst aid’ water filter, which rapidly makes dirty water safe to drink, a great help in halting the spread of waterborne disease.’

Cholera has not been seen in developed countries for over a century. Without treatment those infected quickly become dehydrated, but the condition can easily be treated using an oral rehydration sachet.

Thirst Aid Station water filters remove dangerous bacteria and viruses from water, making it safe to drink.

Dave says that ShelterBox has already distributed water filters and water carriers to hundreds of families, and their current visit will discuss a continuing aid programme via in-country partners ActionAid. The familiar green ShelterBoxes used in Somaliland contain the water kit, plus tarpaulins, tools, cooking utensils, solar lights, mosquito nets, blankets and groundsheets.

Adapted ShelterBoxes, containing tarpaulins instead of tents are distributed in Somaliland

Dave explains, ‘The standard ShelterBox dome tent is not needed in Somaliland as their traditional nomadic dwellings are made from found and recycled materials stretched over tree branch frames. So the tarpaulins we supply add to the resilience of these conventional shelters.’

ShelterBox is pleased to report that families who have already received its aid have found all of the contents instantly useful and practical.

Dave adds, ‘Somaliland was already struggling with drought and food insecurity, and the outbreak of cholera is an added blow. We will do all we can to help them with their thirst, with the battle against disease, and with their need for shelter.’

To help those affected by drought and natural disaster PLEASE DONATE 

‘Haitians to help Haitians’ priority in hurricane-smashed communities, as ShelterBox plans to aid recovery

Little girl in doorway of flooded house


Haiti is counting the human and physical cost of hurricane Matthew – nearly 900 dead, tens of thousands homeless, cholera taking grip. But these disaster-prone communities are resilient, and a team from ShelterBox finds a new ‘self help’ ethos as it makes its partnership aid plans.

‘My house wasn’t destroyed, so I am receiving people, like it’s a temporary shelter.’ These are the words of Bellony Amazan in the town of Cavaillon, where around a dozen people died as hurricane Matthew tore across Haiti’s southern peninsula on Tuesday. She went on to say she did not yet have any food to give people.

Bellony’s community spirit in extreme circumstances reflects a fundamental change from reactions to previous storms and the massive quake in 2010. ShelterBox’s in-country coordinator Andrew Clark says, ‘Everyone is stressing a need and desire for ‘Haitians to help Haitians’ as best as they can. In the past there has been a reliance on aid organisations and a lack of local self-recovery.’ Although international assistance will be essential, and an official state of emergency has been declared, there is an increased emphasis on harnessing community groups and faith-based organisations.

Andre Bloemink, a ShelterBox response volunteer from Canada, adds, ‘Haitians are helping Haitians as best as they can. With previous operations the response often inadvertently promoted reliance on others as opposed to self-recovery. With an already challenged infrastructure, public health and uncertain political situation, the idea is to assist locals as best as we can to support a proactive recovery in the weeks and months ahead.’


As in the 2010 quake when it supported 28,000 families, and in other hurricane events such as Sandy in 2012, ShelterBox has been a major aid provider to Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.

Food, clean water, healthcare and shelter remain priorities on Haiti in the aftermath of Matthew. Transport difficulties to affected areas have been eased a little by the construction of a temporary replacement bridge across La Digue river to the southwest of Port au Prince. ShelterBox team members are exploring transport links and logistics today. But aid access to many remote communities is still mainly by sea or military helicopter, and some coastal towns and villages are still underwater four days after the storm surge.

The UK’s Met Office reports that current weather in Haiti is dry, but very warm at around 28 degrees centigrade. 

In 2010 cholera, previously unknown in Haiti, claimed at least 3,500 lives. The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) now says, ‘Due to massive flooding and its impact on water and sanitation infrastructure, cholera cases are expected to surge after Hurricane Matthew and through the normal rainy season until the start of 2017.’ Among ShelterBox’s suite of aid is a water filtration device to give a household safe drinking water, as well as mosquito nets to combat the spread of other diseases. 

The 'Thirst Aid Station' water filter.

The ‘Thirst Aid Station’ water filter.

To donate, please visit www.shelterboxaustralia.org.au



World Water Day 2014

BANTAYAN ISLAND, PHILIPPINES. 4 February 2014. People collect water from their community's well. (Albert G. Camay)

BANTAYAN ISLAND, PHILIPPINES. 4 February 2014. People collect water from their community’s well. (Albert G. Camay)


World Water Day is held annually on 22 March as a means of focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. ShelterBox helps thousands of people each year who are left without access to clean, safe drinking water in the aftermath of disasters by providing water filters. 
ShelterBox has been trialling a new water filter in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan, having received feedback from disaster-affected families that previous water filter models have been too time-consuming to use.
The beneficiary feedback led ShelterBox to work with a specialist water filtration expert to design a more effective solution. The Thirst Aid Station is the first iteration of this process.
‘The Thirst Aid Station purifies dirty water by filtering out the bacteria,’ said ShelterBox Operations Manager Alf Evans. ‘It also has an activated carbon filter meaning that it removes any strange taste, providing clean, safe and fresh drinking water.’
Safe water for a month
As well as the filter, the Thirst Aid Station is made up of an extremely tough 10 litre ArmourWeave bag that has enough capacity to supply a family of four with safe water for a month, complying with SPHERE humanitarian standards that ShelterBox follows.
LEYTE, PHILIPPINES. January 2014. The Thirst Aid Station, a new water filter to bring clean, safe drinking water to communities affected by humanitarian crises. (Steve Crabtree/ShelterBox)

LEYTE, PHILIPPINES. January 2014. The Thirst Aid Station, a new water filter to bring clean, safe drinking water to communities affected by humanitarian crises. (Steve Crabtree/ShelterBox)


‘It’s simple to use so disaster-affected families do not need to undergo extensive training for it, enabling them to use it quickly and leaving us confident that they will be provided with safe drinking water in the emergency stage of the disaster,’ added Alf.
It’s a simple operation. Dirty water is poured into the bag. Turn the valve at the end of the filter and clean water comes out. This quick procedure allows families to access clean water for the likes of cooking and washing and is more practical for them, especially if they are a big family with lots of children to look after. Previous water filters have been too difficult to use therefore families choose to boil water instead.
Need for clean water after Typhoon Haiyan
‘The traditional way to purify water in the Philippines is to boil it,’ explained Alf. ‘However after Typhoon Haiyan hit last November, some islands were left with no wood to burn and wells were contaminated when the tidal surge happened. Water towers were also pushed over in flat rural areas. Consequently there were pockets of need for clean water amongst various communities. We therefore sent enough water filters to help bring safe clean drinking water to 1,000 families.’
HILANTIGAAN, PHILIPPINES. March 2014. These people on Hilantigaan island stand in line daily to fill their water carriers with unsafe water, the only resource on the windswept island. (Billie Speer/ShelterBox)

HILANTIGAAN, PHILIPPINES. March 2014. These people on Hilantigaan island stand in line daily to fill their water carriers with unsafe water, the only resource on the windswept island. (Billie Speer/ShelterBox)


An international day to celebrate freshwater was recommended at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The United Nations General Assemby responded by designating 22 March 1993 at the first World Water Day