WASHINGTON — In a cruel irony, the tsunami in South Asia has left survivors without enough water to survive. But U.S. forces are using those same ocean waves to solve the problem.

Six U.S. Navy ships providing relief in the region are pumping about 150,000 gallons of purified ocean water a day into Sri Lanka, Sumatra and Thailand, while dozens of car-sized filtration units are being delivered throughout the region to do the same.

The technology is basically the same as home faucet filters, just bigger and designed to handle more volume, according to Marine Staff Sgt. Michael Reed, spokesman for Blount Island Command in Florida, the Marine Corps Logistics Command’s agency for managing Marine Corps pre-positioning programs.

Sailors simply run the salt water through a chain of filters, then pump the potable water to shore through two miles of piping each ship carries. Barges also are being used to shuttle the purified water along the shoreline.

The ships routinely use their built-in filters to supply sailors with water while at sea. But Reed said that in the relief efforts, the systems have proved invaluable.

“It’s not going to be Evian, but it’s safe and drinkable,” Reed said. “Getting water to these places is a huge issue.”

The 41 portable units can process more than 14,000 gallons of water a day, and are being placed in areas not easily accessible to the ship filters or other assistance vehicles.

“They’re producing 10 gallons of drinking water a minute,” Reed said.

U.S. ships have had the filtration technology for several decades, Reed said.

The filters have been used in past natural disaster relief efforts, as well as to supply water to ground troops during active combat missions.

World Health Organization officials have reported outbreaks of diarrhea and skin infections related to polluted drinking water, in addition to the estimated 155,000 deaths caused by the initial disaster.

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