When Post and Courier last spoke to Water Mission, it was one of the few organizations producing safe drinking water for thousands of Ukrainian refugees.
Now, joined by initiatives from the Red Cross and other smaller organizations, the North Charleston-based nonprofit engineering society is adding more to its plate.
The focus now is on getting hospitals in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolayiv with clean water and preparing for the onslaught of a possible cholera outbreak.
So far, Water Mission has installed water treatment systems in three different hospitals in Mykolaiv, providing more than 54,000 liters in the past month.
And a possible cholera outbreak in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, now under Russian control, has many of the organizations on high alert.
Cholera is a bacterial infection of the small intestine, usually transmitted through consumption of infected water supplies. Symptoms include severe vomiting and diarrhea. In severe cases, dehydration from dehydration and loss of electrolytes can lead to death if left untreated.
Much is unknown about the severity of the outbreak or whether Russian forces will allow medical and infectious disease personnel in the city. Craig Williams leads Water Mission’s disaster response team. Although no cases of the disease have been reported, he and his team are on standby should Russian forces allow aid into the city, he said.
“We haven’t seen it proven, but usually where there’s smoke there’s fire,” Williams said.
Several media reported that the cause was an unhygienic mixture of sewage and drinking water.
Uncollected bodies of people killed during the conflict and a dump in the city’s well water could also contribute to the outbreak.
Many of the country’s municipal water systems were damaged beyond repair by the war and continue to be attacked by Russian forces. The problem is so bad that many residents began collecting water from all available sources, including rivers, streams, ponds and wells, which contain bacteria that can cause serious illness and death.
dr Kent Stock is an infectious disease specialist at Roper St. Francis Hospital. He fears that if cholera-infected people have limited access to hospitals and clean drinking water for rehydration, many will die.
People infected with the bacteria can produce between 10 and 20 bowel movements a day.
“It’s so extreme that you can die in a matter of days,” Stock told the Post and Courier.
And according to Dr. Ibrahima Soce Fall, head of the World Health Organization’s emergency response team, says cholera is just one of the diseases that could plague the city unless safe drinking water is restored.
Measles, typhoid and other waterborne diseases can also result from unsanitary living conditions.
According to the latest population estimates, 100,000 people still live in Mariupol. Hundreds of thousands face a similar fate in cities across Ukraine.
Ukraine is rich in volunteers, humanitarian and disaster relief organizations ready to provide assistance. What they need is “funding to get enough (water) systems in place and keep them running for at least six months,” Williams said.
“That’s the crucial piece,” he added.
The deepening crisis has prompted Water Mission to look for other ways to support as many people as possible while avoiding areas of conflict. This includes working with local Ukrainian churches and other NGOs in the region, providing smaller water treatment systems to distribute water to areas in need.
Just three days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Water Mission was on the ground in Poland and Romania, helping refugees and sponsoring local churches that became shelters.
Since then, the organization has installed 11 water filtration systems in cities in southern Ukraine. But much more is needed to feed the thousands of families left without drinking water.
“We’re just going to keep going and moving forward,” Williams said.
Follow Zharia Jeffries on Twitter @Zharia_Jeffries.