26 Mar 2014 An easier, cleaner way for the poor to carry water
Grief CEO, David Fischer, knew that though he couldn’t change the distance people walk to get water, he could make carrying it easier and storing it safer. He came up with the idea of a sturdy, collapsible plastic backpack with a removable liner for carrying water. Now instead of lugging heavy buckets on their heads, women with the Greif Pack H20 have an easier job of it.
“We designed the first ergonomically correct water transport system,” Fischer explains. Water, he says, is heavy: 20 litres weighs some 20kg. “You should carry weight near the centre of gravity of your body. That’s why we designed a backpack.”
The standard container that Fischer is trying to displace is not only bad for the water carrier’s spine and neck; it’s often not safe from a water cleanliness perspective.
“People use 5-gallon buckets and jerry cans that originally contained pesticides, paint or oil,” says Fischer, a trained chemist who explains that the toxins from such substances leach into the water carried in such containers. Not to mention that small-necked jerry cans are nearly impossible to clean.
“Especially in areas with no running water and no soap, these cans become petri dishes for water-borne pathogens,” he adds. “It’s hard to illuminate the Achilles heel of the water problem: contaminated containers. The sad truth is they don’t have a better option.” Which is why Fischer is so keen to get the word out about his solution.
Grief, the fourth oldest publicly traded company in the US, with $4.5 billion in revenues, has been distributing its Pack H20 at scale for nearly two years to people in 20 countries. Fischer has established partnerships with non-profits like Habitat for Humanity, Partners for Health and others to distribute the backpacks where they are needed most and to train people how to use them.
Elizabeth Blake, a senior manager at Habitat for Humanity, says the Greif Pack H20 “is the most exciting under told story”.
Habitat for Humanity heard about the backpacks in late 2011 and agreed to send samples to 20 countries where it was doing disaster work.
Says Blake: “We sent them out with open ended questions: How would you use this? Would you put it in a [disaster relief] kit? Could the pack itself be used to carry materials with the liner taken out? The responses: 18 out of 20 countries said ‘We loved this’. Certain of them said we’d actually be interested in looking at this not just for disaster relief, but also for our regular program.”
Habitat for Humanity got a $1-million grant from a family foundation in Ohio to distribute 100,000 Greif water backpacks in eight countries, primarily ones hit frequently by natural disasters, including El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras and the Philippines. They buy the packs from Greif, which ships them to the desired country. Nearly 24,000 packs were en route to the Philippines before the disastrous Typhoon Haiyan hit last November…..