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The Power of Clean Water in a Four-Gram Sachet

Image credit: P&G

It takes just 30 minutes – using only a bucket, a spoon, a cloth and a four-gram Procter & Gamble sachet – to purify 10 litres of dirty, contaminated water.

Rose M lives in a semi-urban area in Kisumu County in Western Kenya with her husband and two teenage children. She and her husband, Sam, are HIV-positive, so they are particularly susceptible to waterborne diseases. Her entire family would often get sick from drinking the polluted water from a nearby river, which is contaminated by the local wildlife.

“The water was very dirty, but it was close to where we live. To get clean water, I would have to walk for an hour. If I was sick because of the HIV, I would have to send one of my children to fetch the water, which meant that they would miss school. So I had to use the river. It was not good,” she recounts.

According to UNICEF, at least 1.8 billion people worldwide drink water that is fecally contaminated and 663 million people rely on unimproved water sources. It is not therefore not surprising that almost 1,000 children die every day from diseases caused by drinking unsafe water, and a lack of proper sanitation and hygiene, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

To address this, P&G, in collaboration with the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, developed a low-cost, point-of-use powdered technology in 2004. It is designed to purify heavily contaminated water so that it meets WHO standards for safe drinking water. P&G scientists used the research behind its laundry detergent brands to effectively fit a water treatment plant into a packet the size of a teabag; one sachet provides enough drinking water for a family of five for one day. Since then, P&G’s Children’s Safe Drinking Water Programme has helped individuals to purify almost 10 billion litres of water from a variety of sources in over 75 countries, saving the lives of tens of thousands of people.

For the last nine years, Rose has been using P&G’s water-purifying sachets. This has enabled her to improve the health and quality of life of her loved ones. Her children, not often sick or having to walk long distances to fetch water, are able to go to school more regularly. In addition, the P&G purification packets give Rose the opportunity to earn an income to support her family: She has been trained by one of P&G’s partners, the Safe Water and AIDS Project (SWAP), to become an active community health advocate and an entrepreneur, selling the purifying packets to people in her town.

The packets have also been distributed for free as part of emergency relief efforts around the world.

“The effects of natural disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes last well after the catastrophe occurs,” explains Allison Tummon-Kamphuis, Manager of P&G’s Children’s Safe Drinking Water Programme. “Those who are lucky enough to survive the event itself are still vulnerable, and their health is placed in jeopardy by a number of factors. One of these is access to clean water. The P&G water-purifying packets, which are portable and lightweight, are therefore a vital aspect of surviving the aftermath of these tragic occurrences.”

The Children’s Safe Drinking Water Programme partners with over 150 non-profit organisations around the world to share this innovation with individuals who need it most. In order to target places where the water purifying packets will have the maximum impact, P&G adapts its distribution plan according to the needs of each community. Working with its partners, P&G uses existing programmes, such as those at health clinics and schools. Building awareness of the importance of clean water is also critical to their efforts.

The Children’s Safe Drinking Water Programme has pledged to deliver 15 billion litres of clean water by 2020.

“Clean water should be a fundamental right as it determines our quality of life,” Tummon-Kamphuis emphasises. World Water Day on 22 March is an annual reminder of the hundreds of millions of people who lack access to this vital, life-giving source. The Children’s Safe Drinking Water Programme hopes to continue to minimise the developing world’s reliance on environmental factors that cannot be controlled and use the water that we have to nourish our homes, our people, and our communities.”


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