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Smokey Robinson Spearheads Fight Against Water-Borne Diseases

RP Siegel | Friday September 28th, 2012 | 1 Comment

Some of you might remember the 1972 hit song “Smoke on the Water,” by Deep Purple. Today’s story reminds me of the title, you’ll see why in a minute.

You see, legendary R&B singer and songwriter Smokey Robinson, launched a social media site called Smoke Alarm as a way of getting the word out on important issues of the day. What makes Smoke Alarm so powerful is the number of celebrity participants he has on board, including Elton John, Hillary Duff, Daryl Hall, Eva Longoria and James Franco, among others who pass these messages along to their Facebook fans and Twitter followers. The site currently has over 44 million subscribers.

The first issue that Smokey is tackling is a great one, the challenge of providing clean drinking water to millions of people around the world who do not have it.

According to the World Health Organization, 1.6 million people die every year from diarrheal diseases (including cholera). This is attributable to lack of access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. Of these illnesses, 90 percent are children under 5, mostly in developing countries. Additionally, schistosomiasis, a parasitic condition more commonly know as bilharzia causes tens of thousands of deaths annually and 6 million people go blind each year from bacterial trachoma and there are half a million cases of clinical hepatitis A contracted every year.

In order to impact this terrible problem, Smokey has pulled together an excellent team, with a unique strategy that seems destined to succeed. He sought out the help of David Clark Cause on the front end, to put together this campaign, which leverages social media in a very interesting way, to raise money for the project. On the back end, delivering their highly effective PUR water treatment packets is Proctor & Gamble. We spoke with Greg Allgood, the Director of P&G’s Children’s Safe Drinking Water (CSDW) program last year about the program. Allgood refers to the water treatment packets as “a very effective mini-treatment plant in a packet. Even if the source is extremely contaminated, the resulting quality is comparable to what we drink here in the U.S.  But they were made to be used where the need is greatest.”

Each packet treats 10 liters of water (2.6 gallons). P&G works with a number of partners to distribute the packets, including: World Vision, PSI, USAID, CDC, The Red Cross, CARE, and Save the Children. The company’s goal for the program, which it hopes to achieve by 2020, is to save one life every hour.

You can see a demonstration of the packets here. P&G has used promotions like their brandSAVER coupon promotion to raise money to produce the packets based on the number of coupon redemptions. The operation is run on a not-for-profit basis.  This approach has proven highly successful, with the company now shipping 100 million packets yearly. This sounds like a lot, but the need is even greater. According to WHO, close to a billion people are at risk of waterborne diseases every year.

That is why Smoke Alarm has really upped the ante here, bringing in the big guns, with a huge endorsement by Bill Clinton at the program kickoff early this week at the Clinton Global Initiative, whose theme this year is designing for impact. Clinton highlighted the work being done by World Vision in Chad, Mali, Ghana, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Sierra Leone.

According to Kevin Jenkins, President and CEO of World Vision, “No other humanitarian intervention has a more dramatic effect on children and families than access to clean water and sanitation.”

Now, by leveraging the power of social media, Smoke Alarm hopes to increase the effectiveness of this phenomenal program with a kind of celebrity-enhanced crowd-sourcing. If that feels like a good idea to you, I second that emotion.

You can see a video of Smokey talking about the program here.

[Image credit: SunriseOn7: Flickr Creative Commons]

RP Siegel, PE, is an inventor, consultant and author. He co-wrote the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.


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  • Dolly

    I’ve never ever gotten into the “leave a comment” thing, but I couldn’t refuse this one. Smokey, GOD BLESS YOU and all those involved! What a GREAT issue to tackle.