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Capital touts back-up plan for sanitation

A new Wellington Region Emergency Management Office [WREMO] campaign is encouraging residents to plan what to do when they can’t use their loo.

The Wellington region is crossed by many active faults, WREMO said, and GNS Science has previously noted there’s a 10 per cent chance of the Wellington Fault rupturing within the next century.

A large earthquake on the Wellington Fault would result in considerable damage and lengthy outages to the region’s wastewater system.

Richard Mowll, Lifeline Utilities Coordinator for the Wellington Region Emergency Management Group, said people might be unable to flush their toilets for one to three months after a large earthquake and should be prepared to store their own waste for at least 30 days.

The campaign was announced hours after a 5.9 magnitude earthquake stuck near Porangahau in the lower North Island at 10.16am on Wednesday morning at a depth of 22km.

“The 2011 Christchurch earthquake highlighted the vulnerability of sewerage systems to disruption during an earthquake. It showed how vital it is that we plan for this and that communities are prepared to manage their own wee and poo following a large earthquake,” Mowll said.

An emergency sanitation plan was collaboratively developed by the region’s nine councils, including Wairarapa’s councils, Massey University, WREMO, Wellington Water, Health and Disability representatives, Ngati Toa, and solid waste managers.

The plan aimed to encourage communities to prepare to “manage their own wee and poo” in an emergency.

For the Wellington region,two viable options were taken – either making a long-drop ora two-bucket toilet system – one for wee and one for poo. The plan also includes an option for those with accessibility needs or limited mobility.

“We wanted to offer realistic and easy options for households to manage their wee and poo following a major earthquake,” Mowll said.

“The options also needed to be feasible for waste management contractors, environmentally conscious, accessible, and reduce the risk of public health issues.”

Mowll said part of the emergency sanitation campaign will involve a friend from Taranaki – Poo-nelope, a giant inflatable poo.

“Poo-nelope will be on holiday in the Wellington region, out and about educating communities on how they can make an emergency toilet. You will be able to keep up to date with Poo-nelope’s holiday through her blog posts on our social media.”

WREMO Community Resilience and Recovery Manager Dan Neely said it is important that WREMO learns from the Christchurch earthquake and educated communities on what to expect.

“We want to reach as many people as possible with this campaign. Emergency sanitation is a niche subject and not something many people think of as part of their emergency preparedness,” Neely said.

He said the campaign is unique because there are very few places across the world [if any], that have developed an emergency sanitation plan to this scale.

The campaign will run until the end of May. Residents should keepan eye out for Poo-nelope, who will be touring across the region.

Information on how to create an emergency toilet can be found at www.wremo.nz/emergency-toilets.

Grace Prior
Grace Prior
Grace Prior is a senior reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age with a keen interest in environmental issues. Grace is the paper’s health reporter and regularly covers the rural sector, weather, Greater Wellington Regional Council, and coastal stories.

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