For almost a decade, Proctor & Gamble has manufactured water purification packets that helped save over 29,000 lives and prevent over 200 million days of diarrheal illness. Dr. Greg Allgood, the director of P&G Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program (CSDW), has traveled the world to keep updated on how these little packets can make a big difference to families in the developing world. One packet can purify 10 liters of water, enough for one day’s use by a family of five.
CSDW has been so important to Dr. Allgood and his team at P&G that they decided to rebrand what were once called PUR packets with the the P&G logo–an unusual move for the 176-year-old company that highlights its brands instead of the parent corporation’s name. And with the goal to save one life per hour and deliver 2 billion gallons of water annually by 2020, Dr. Allgood and his colleagues at P&G decided the company was in a position to expand access to clean water even more. In a telephone interview earlier this week, we talked about CSDW’s challenges, successes and new directions to bring clean water to those who need it the most.
Since Dr. Allgood last spoke with 3p, P&G has expanded the CSDW program with even more vigor and focus. The recent opening of a new packet manufacturing plant in Singapore will allow P&G to make an additional 200 million packets, or sachets, annually by 2020. Various distribution systems allow the sachets to become available across the world; and while P&G does not make a profit off of the packets, the company works with various NGOs to establish programs that offer citizens opportunities to sell the packets at a margin allowing them to make a decent living.
The P&G water purification packets are saving lives increasingly on two different fronts. In Africa, P&G has scaled the distribution of these packets because the most common cause of death among HIV/AIDS is from the lack of safe drinking water–diseases such as diarrhea prevent HIV retroviral drugs from becoming absorbed into the bloodstream and therefore are not fully effective. During our interview, Dr. Allgood reminisced about one experience he had with an HIV/AIDS patient in Kenya:
“I met Zeinab and showed her how to use the water packets. We thought she’d not live long because her immunity was really beaten down from HIV/AIDS. She was on antiretroviral therapy but couldn’t maintain weight because of persistent diarrhea. We gave her family the packets and I was able to visit her 6 months later. The transformation literally brought tears to our eyes but the best smile I’ve ever seen to Zeinab’s face. After having clean water, Zeinab was able to regain her lost weight and literally get off her death bed. Then she was able to get a job and was able to pay the school fees so her children could return to school.”
In Bangladesh and elsewhere on the Indian subcontinent, naturally occurring arsenic in local drinking water supplies cause a bevy of health ailments from circulatory problems to skin lesions. P&G’s packets, however, remove up to 98 percent of arsenic and render water safe to drink.
Much work still must be done in the developing world to ensure safe and reliable water supplies. Many women and children often walk up to six kilometers per day to fetch water for household use–and often that water is frequently contaminated. Over 2,000 children die daily as a result of diarrhea. And one billion people each day lack access to safe drinking water. Those P&G packets, however, provide a tiny solution that in the end can make a big difference.
Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and frequently writes about business sustainability strategy. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. He will speak at San Francisco State University on climate change, the media and business on Wednesday, April 3. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).
[Image credit: P&G]