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Tears of joy over water

Kathryn was so happy to see how much it meant to the remote flood-affected village communities in southern China. A safe water supply and the thousands of toilets meant the world to them, she says.

"It was really obvious to me ... how significant it was in their lives. These were very poor communities, but they had made some baked potatoes and they were trying to give them to me as a thank you gesture," Kathryn says.

Working in China was Kathryn's first international Red Cross assignment, 10 years ago. It was just a few years after leaving university. Kathryn realised that she would dedicate her life to improving the lives of people less fortunate around the world.

Now, having worked with more communities than she can remember straight after disasters, she says one thing is crystal clear: "Water is definitely one of the first things that people need following a disaster".

"Usually their access to traditional water supplies has either been damaged or affected. If they're in a flood affected area it's difficult for them to move around, so many can not access any water."

Kathryn points out that it is also a major challenge to provide access to toilets or other facilities in emergencies. "Sanitation is a huge issue. It's really difficult to get any focus on trying to support sanitation after a disaster. It's a bit easier with water."

Huge challenges were faced by communities in Pakistan when they dealt with major floods between 2010 and 2012. Kathryn remembers how urgent action was needed to assist the millions of people who were forced to go to the toilet in the open, particularly due to the associated risk of disease.

"If children have diarrhoea, they become severely dehydrated very quickly. It can be fatal."

Kathryn has spent the last year working in Timor-Leste, including working with very remote communities that are affected by disasters and health issues. "That could be dengue fever, malaria, diarrhoea, as well as disasters like landslides and floods," she says.

Improving access to safe water and improving sanitation, says Kathryn, is one of the main priorities to assist communities so that they can better cope if a disaster strikes.

No one knows when the next disaster will strike - donating to Disaster Relief and Recovery will help make sure that Red Cross can train and send specialist aid workers like Kathryn to respond to disasters around the world.

Photo: Kathryn Clarkson is thanked by a number of Chinese older women for the safe water supply and toilet facilities that were set up by Red Cross. (Australian Red Cross)