(Per official rules: I have signed up to participate in the Clean Water Blogivation campaign. If my blog receives the most votes, I will win an opportunity to join Dr. Greg Allgood on a clean water expedition to Africa and a $15,000 donation to my favorite charity tackling water issues.)
Two and a half weeks after BlogHer, I still can’t shake the uneasy feeling in my stomach I acquired while inside P&G’s “Home Away From Home” in the expo hall. In the living room of the P&G house bloggers were educated about PUR water packets and how they were being used to give people across the world access to clean water. Immediately, I thought it odd the display about clean water, which is essential to life and health, was placed in the living room of their display, but as I listened carefully to the presentation, it became quite clear.
First we were introduced to what PUR water purification packet was. From the Children’s Safe Drinking Water website:
“The PUR packet is an amazing innovation that quickly turns 10 liters of dirty, potentially deadly water into clean and drinkable water. And, because it is much smaller and easier to ship than plastic water bottles, anyone anywhere in the world can easily use it.”
Briefly, it’s a 3 step process that takes 30 minutes to complete, before the water is drinkable. As mom to four small children who have almost no concept of time, I was rather surprised. I wonder what happens if you don’t let it sit for the proper amount of time? Is it still effective? I couldn’t help but laugh when I watched the PUR packet video and listened to the comments of the assisting children about time. Dr. Allgood addressed another of my concerns late in this video. He mentions that when they took the PUR packets to Haiti, the people did not have watches, so how could they know when the 20 minutes was up? Thankfully, someone noticed that it took 20 minutes for the mothers to cook the green bananas that is a staple of their diet, so they could use this to mark the appropriate time for this community. It makes me wonder though, as they introduce this in other countries and areas, how do they teach those people to wait the required amount of time?
While I think the PUR packets are wonderful technology, it certainly requires on-site training specific to each community’s needs and resources to make sure they are used properly so that they will achieve the intended results.
The second part of the pitch was what left me nauseated. We were told that not only do they supply these PUR packets to communities, but they created a system for the women of the communities to sell the packets and therefore earn income for their families. I did a mental double take.
I couldn’t shake the mental image of Peg Boggs from the opening of Edward Scissorhands as she rang doorbell after doorbell in her pristine pastel neighborhood peddling her cosmetics. ‘Ding, dong. Avon calling? No, it’s PUR water. No astringent here, but this little packet will help prevent infection.’
Are we forcing our American consumerism onto these people by showing them their great need and then making them pay for it? How are they expected to get the income to pay for the packets in the first place? I’m no economics expert, but this seems like creating a demand to drive supply. It still isn’t clear to me who created, organized or implements this system. I’m not sure if it is P&G directly, a branch of P&G or another organization altogether.
Maybe my mental image is extreme and far from the truth, but I did quite a bit of research. While there is a great deal of information out there about the PUR packets, I found it difficult to find much information about the distribution system. A few blogs buried deep within the Children’s Safe Drinking Water website shed enough light so that I knew I wasn’t dreaming up what I heard at BlogHer.
Halfway down this article, you’ll find a photo of women wearing burgundy blazers with the following explanation:
“These women help support themselves and their families by selling safe water products like PUR, as well as Pampers and Always. They staff a kiosk in a local market as well as sell door to door in their “territory” of neighbors.”
CDSW.org also has a list of partners that use the PUR product. I’m sure you’ll recognize several of the organizations as I did. I was relieved to find another blog post about World Vision’s use of the PUR packets. It shares the story of Margaret and how she was taught to use the packets to purify her drinking water. I found hope in the following paragraph:
“Margaret is very engaged as I show her how to use PUR. We use her buckets and spoon to make the PUR-treated water and leave her with her first allotment of PUR. She’ll be resupplied at the local clinic.”
It appears that these humanitarian and relief agencies are able to purchase the PUR packets and then distribute them in whatever way they deem best, which hopefully includes GIVING them away for free. Who are we to say who deserves clean water? Only those who can afford it? Only those able to commit to sharing/selling it to their neighbors? What about those families who are already so stricken by disease that they physically can’t sell door to door, no matter how much they want to improve their family’s condition?
The final blow for me at BlogHer was the pushy man in the “living room” who wanted me to sign up for a free e-mail reminder so I could blog about their program and possibly win a free trip to Africa to see their product in action. I could barely sort out my own thoughts on what I’d just heard before he was using the magic blogger marketing words “Win. Free. Trip.” Let’s be real, that’s code for “Give. Free. PR.” I politely declined signing up for his list.
Despite that, this morning I received a lovely e-mail in my inbox politely reminding me there are only a few days left to participate in the Give Health Clean Water Blogivation promotion. I took the time to read the Official Rules carefully. Did any of you notice this line?
“Bloggers who promote their blog post on Twitter must include the hashtag “#paid ad”.”
See what I mean about free PR? I have to wonder, exactly how are we getting “paid” unless we are the winner of the contest?
In doing my research for this article, I also stumbled upon this little bit of information. If you visit the CDSW.org website and click on “Get a Kit”, a list of retailers opens up. I clicked on Walmart.com and found this in the customer review section for this item:
Wait to buy this product, 09/14/2009
by LewA, Columbia, MD
I just purchased this product for inclusion in a disaster readiness kit. The chemical packets that come with the kit have a shelf life of three years. The current stock has less than 1 year left on that shelf life (Aug 2010). I contacted the company in an attempt to get replacement packets. The kits are not manufactured continually. It appears they only make them when the current stock expires. If you want to buy this kit for emergency preparedness, wait until September 2010 before buying it. At that time, P&G will have replaced the current stock on hand with new product that will have the expected 3 year shelf life.
If you plan to use this product immediately (or in the near future) then my criticism does not apply.
I have no idea how valid this statement is. If it is true, it certainly raises many more questions about how the product is distributed in other countries, how well it works past expiration, how people are educated and keep track of the expiration and how the expired product is dealt with in those areas.
Here’s the bottom line:
* I love that scientists worked hard to develop the PUR water packets to make clean water accessible virtually anywhere. Sure it has a few kinks with time requirements, but nothing that can’t be overcome with dedicated people who are willing to give the education necessary to make it work.
* My concern lies with the concept of selling this door to door. We as Americans and Canadians (let’s not forget our blogging sisters to the north) are living in the most affluent countries. Why should we use our blogs to promote this behavior? No one should ever be educated about their condition and then forced by lack of resources to make a hard decision like that. We all know as moms we do everything we can to give our children the best we can. Why would I dare to promote something that could cause a mother in another country the potential for that emotional heartache?
If I’m wrong about how this is happening, I’d love for someone to enlighten me. I’m open minded, I love a good discussion. I’d love for someone to prove to me that we aren’t forcing our western ideas of commerce on other communities. Let’s talk about real strategy for a sustainable global community that thrives. People are people. No one is any better or more worthy of clean water than any other.
* Look carefully at the charities and organizations you align yourself with. Make sure they conduct business the way you would. If I had $15,000 to donate, you better believe I’d chose an organization that will distribute freely the opportunity for clean water.
One of the main themes of BlogHer this year was how powerful our voices are as bloggers. I believe in the power of one person, the power of words, and the power of women, so I chose to submit my thoughts to the Blogivation campaign. I want to be heard. If you agree with me, I’d love your vote. By agreeing with me and voting for my post you can provide one day of drinking water.
No one should die because the only water they have to drink is dangerous. No one should die of an incurable case of diarrhea. I want EVERYONE to have the ability to drink clean water, EVERYONE. It’s plain and simple: GIVE WATER.
Editor’s note: I received a message from P&G in response to several of the issues raised in this article. A follow up will be written shortly to share this information with you.