DELAWARE, Ohio — UNICEF estimates that 1 billion people across the world currently lack access to clean, safe water.
Four years ago, Greif Inc. President and CEO David Fischer witnessed the issue firsthand in Haiti when he helped build a rain catchment system for a rural village after the infamous earthquake. Haitian women and girls walk approximately 3.5 miles while transporting water to their homes. Many of them are also forced to use dirty buckets and fuel containers that were previously used to hold pesticides and other chemicals.
Motivated by his experiences in Haiti, Fischer returned home and challenged his industrial packaging company to design a better solution to the global problem of clean water transport. After consulting with women in Haiti and working closely with organizations like USAID, the Clinton Global Initiative and Habitat for Humanity International, the company created PackH2O – a low-cost water backpack that is seven times lighter and smaller than the typical plastic jerry can.
Made of industrial-grade polypropylene fabric, the durable and compact PackH2O holds up to five gallons of clean water, which is the average daily amount needed per household in the developing world. The backpack has a roll-top closure that prevents water loss due to evaporation or spillage during transport over uneven terrain. There is a removable inner liner that can be easily disinfected via a process called solar water disinfection, harnessing the power of sunlight to eliminate waterborne pathogens within the liner. Additionally, PackH2O’s broad and adjustable straps allow for “individualized comfort” and distributes weight evenly on the back of the wearer, leaving the hands free and relieving stress from the head and neck.
Filling a PackH2O has been made easier as well. The flat base allows the backpack to support itself while being filled or emptied. Flexible material and wide openings make it possible for users to decrease their chance of being exposed to “danger at the water source.” Reflective strips on the water backpack help further ensure the safety of the wearer in the dark.
Since PackH2O is geared toward those in the developing world, keeping the costs low was a major priority during the development phase. Each water backpack can now be purchased online and donated for $10. In addition to ensuring a low product price, PackH2O designers were focused on sustainability and minimized the carbon footprint associated with the creation of the backpacks. Fischer has stated that sustainability is a key factor in the business model as well; the PackH2O line is financially self-supporting, allowing for the “production and innovation of the water backpack long into the future, until the day they’re not needed anymore.”
As the “catalyst for solving the Global Water Crisis,” PackH2O has been met with great results so far. A Partners in Health field survey in Haiti revealed that more than 60 percent of PackH2O users spend less time transporting water, lose less water while walking home and enjoy faster filling times.
Since November 2011, tens of thousands of backpacks have been distributed to people in Haiti, Guatemala, Kenya and Uganda. In the near future, Fischer and the other creators plan to deliver millions of PackH2O backpacks to other underdeveloped areas in the world.