When the Post and Courier last spoke with Water Mission, they were one of the only organizations producing safe drinking water for thousands of Ukrainian refugees.
Now, accompanied by initiatives from the Red Cross and other smaller organizations, the North Charleston-based engineering nonprofit is adding more to its plate.
The focus now is on providing safe water for hospitals in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv and preparing for the onslaught of a potential cholera outbreak.
So far, Water Mission has installed water treatment systems in three different hospitals in Mykolaiv, providing more than 54,000 liters over the past month.
And a potential cholera outbreak in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, now under Russian control, has put many of the organizations on high alert.
Cholera is a bacterial infection of the small intestine, usually contracted by consuming infected water supplies. Symptoms include severe vomiting and diarrhea. In serious cases, dehydration from the loss of fluids and electrolytes could lead to death if left untreated.
Much is unknown about the severity of the outbreak or if Russian forces will allow medical and infectious disease personnel in the city. Craig Williams leads Water Mission’s disaster response team. While there have been no reported cases of the disease, he and his team are on stand-by should Russian forces allow aid into the city, he said.
“We haven’t yet seen it proven, but usually where there’s smoke there’s fire,” Williams said.
Multiple media outlets reported the cause is an unsanitary mixture of sewage and drinking water.
Uncollected bodies of people killed during the conflict and a swath of garbage in the city’s well water could also be contributing to the outbreak.
Many of the country’s municipal water systems have been irreparably damaged by the war and continue to be targeted by Russian military forces. The problem is so dire, many residents began gathering water from any available sources, including rivers, creeks, ponds and wells, which have bacteria that can cause severe illness and death.
Dr. Kent Stock is an infectious disease expert at Roper St. Francis Hospital. He’s concerned many will die if there is little access to hospitals and safe drinking water for those infected with cholera to rehydrate with.
People infected with the bacteria can produce between 10-20 stools a day.
“It’s so extreme that you can die within days,” Stock told the Post and Courier.
And according to Dr. Ibrahima Soce Fall, leader of the World Health Organization’s emergency response team, cholera is just one of the diseases that could plague the city if safe drinking water is not restored.
Measles, typhoid fever and other waterborne diseases could also arise due to unsanitary living conditions.
The latest population estimates show 100,000 people are still living in Mariupol. In cities across Ukraine, hundreds of thousands of others are at risk of a similar fate.
Ukraine is rich with volunteers, humanitarian and disaster relief organizations ready to provide aid. What they need is “funding to be able to put enough (water) systems in place and keep them running for at least six months,” Williams said.
“That’s the critical piece,” he added.
The heightened crisis has left Water Mission looking for different ways to support as many people as they can while avoiding conflict areas. This includes partnering with local Ukrainian churches and other NGOs in the area, providing smaller water treatment systems to distribute water in needy areas.
Water Mission was on the ground in Poland and Romania just three days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, helping refugees and funding local churches that turned into shelters.
Since then, the organization has installed 11 water filtration systems in cities across southern Ukraine. But many more are needed to be able to sustain the thousands of families left without drinkable water.
“We just keep pushing and moving forward,” Williams said.
Follow Zharia Jeffries on Twitter @Zharia_Jeffries.