HTI HydoPack: Clean Water for Disaster Relief The HydroPack Is Like a Capri Sun Pouch for Disaster Relief HTI HydoPack: Clean Water for Disaster Relief The HydroPack Is Like a Capri Sun Pouch for Disaster Relief
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HTI HydoPack: Clean Water for Disaster Relief The HydroPack Is Like a Capri Sun Pouch for Disaster Relief

by Alex Goldmark

March 25, 2011

Today is World Water Day. This year's theme is "Water for Cities." Yes, you can still attend all manner of walks, photo contests, screenings, and other events supporting global access to clean water. We've highlighted some noble projects for delivering drinking water in the past, but today we bring you you news of a new technology designed especially for disasters.

The first phase of an emergency response situation, the first three to eleven days, are crucial for public health. Before electricity is restored, clean water is shipped in, and medical operations are fully established, people are at the greatest risk of the secondary dangers of disaster. "You have a lot of water borne illness ... dysentary, cholera," White says. 

Natural as the inspiration may be, it's still advanced technology considering the packs have a shelf life of more than five years and have to work in pretty adverse conditions. The packs were designed by HTI for military and recreational outdoor use and currently sell for about $4 each, far too expensive for mass deployment in the developing world. [UPDATE: HTI tells GOOD that for "humanitarian bulk orders" the price per pack is as low as 80 cents per pouch.] "Seldom do third world nations benefit from our technology, our material and design expertise. This project combines all three," White says, proud that his company, Eastman, is trying to adapt this product for disaster usage.

White says the cost of production has to come down to about 75 cents per pack if it's going to be sold to international relief agencies. Entrenched habits of hauling bottled water need to be adjusted too. HydroPacks and other filtration products, such as the LifeStraw Family, are complements to the existing clean water efforts of aid and disaster agencies, not full-on replacements, but before big players like the Red Cross or U.N. consider a shift away from standard operating procedure, they need to see tests and results. That's why Eastman and HTI performed this recent field test.

White admits there's a long way to go, and a lot more testing to demonstrate this can work on a mass scale beyond the one village test in Kenya if aid agencies are going to to get on board in a big way. The HyrdoPack is still a boutique product right now, he says. "Obviously, a boutique product is not going to work in a disaster situation. It has to be more of a commodity" to work, he admits.

But in Mudimbia, Kenya, many people in the 90 households who got HyrdoPacks gained weight compared to their peers because of the nutrient supplements in the packs, demonstrating another possible advantage over bottled water. The packs were also able to filter out e-coli and other contaminants successfully.

HTI is still working out details for deployment that sometimes derail well-intentioned ideas like this: details like creating packaging that allows these packs to be used by anyone, of any literacy level, in any language.

So, these aren't ready to be airlifted into Japan—or the next Haiti— These aren't being widely used by relief agencies as standard practice for disasters yet, but a few thousand were deployed in Haiti and HTI is still performing further tests to fine tune the packaging design and instructions for wider use. And if that catches on, HTI estimates the relief provided by 15 helicopter loads of bottled water could be provided with just one load of HydroPacks. That's motivation for getting the product ready for deployment.

[UPDATE: HTI tells GOOD that Hearts and Hands International is collecting donations to supply HydroPacks to the people of the Buvalangi District of Kenya before the next flooding season if you want to contribute.]

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HTI HydoPack: Clean Water for Disaster Relief The HydroPack Is Like a Capri Sun Pouch for Disaster Relief