Call Us: +27 21 881 3014

Water everywhere but not a drop to drink

Almost 100 years ago to the day, a dark cloud descended on Europe and indeed on the World. For many at the time, the possibility of war seemed remote. It was generally believed that the “civilized” and “scientific” nations would not risk starting a conflagration of unprecedented proportions. In spite of the doubts, war did start and perhaps because of the technological advances, stalemate was quickly reached. Within 6 months the trench warfare, images with which we are so familiar had begun - a way of life (and death) for many millions that was to only end in November 1918. It might have been Napolean who said that an army marches on its stomach. Not sure who said anything clever about water but everyone knows a thirsty army cannot survive for very long. The war in the trenches of Flanders presented all manner of water supply challenges. Ground water was often available in abundance, especially when water tables were high. As a drinking water source, ground water was at best useful for washing.

WW1 100 years 01

Mostly the ground water was heavily contaminated by wastes of all descriptions, both chemical and organic. For eating and drinking, water had to be carried to the fighting trenches in water bottles strapped to the belt. Water tanks were generally brought by horse cart to the “reserve trenches” from where the soldiers would top up as required.

Treatment of contaminated surface water involved flocculation, filtration and disinfection using chlorine salts.  Not much has changed in the last 100 years.  Flocculation and filtration remains the most common method of water treatment to this day.  We may have elaborate  bells and whistles in the 21st century, but the essential technology remains unchanged.

The Americans, ever innovative, brought the Lyster bag to the Western Front.  This was a linen filtration bag with an integrated calcium hypochlorite (HTH) disinfection module.  In those days over chlorination was a common occurrence, a price worth paying to avoid gastric infection.  In the South African war (1899-1902) more than half of the British casualties died from sanitation related diseases -  a lesson well heeded in 1914.

WW1 100 years 02 (flooded trench)

Comments are closed.