If there was any doubt how the residents of Mudimbia would respond to the HydroPack™, a pouch with a sports-like drink developed by Hydration Technology Innovations (HTI) for disaster relief situations, it was eliminated at a village well when Dr. Paul K. Carlton, Jr., former surgeon general for the U.S. Air Force, encountered a group of women gathering water in buckets for their families.
After puncturing a hole in the HydroPack™, Dr. Carlton sipped on the lemon lime-tasting drink, he handed it to one of the women. At first, she hesitated and, then, when a new straw was offered, she took the drink and polished it off.
Before Dr. Carlton finished at the well, a dozen men, women and children sampled and delivered their opinion of the HydroPack™. “Oh it’s good. It’s delicious,” declared Wilberforce Odunga.
Around the same time the verdict was being delivered at the well, HTI was starting a pilot demonstration in the nearby village in collaboration with the Kenya Water for Health Organization (KWAHO) to show how the HydroPack™ can be used to meet the hydration needs of people in the early days of a disaster.
The village, Mudimbia, lies in the Budalangi district of western Kenya, home to some 20,000 people who suffer floods on a regular basis, forcing most of the residents to live in refugee camps.
The pilot demonstration involves 90 families using the HydroPack™ and its Forward Osmosis technology that takes dirty water and overnight transforms it into a healthy, flavorful drink. In addition to KWAHO, HTI is working with Eastman Chemical Company, producer of the cellulose acetate material used in the membrane of the HydroPack™, and Modern Edge, a Portland, Oregon, design consultancy that is studying such issues as ease-of-use.
The first day of the two-week project had villagers marvelling how dirty water can be turned into a tasty drink as five field workers fanned out across the village, giving each household a short training session on the HydroPack™,.
They were already thinking of other uses besides emergency relief.
“Fishermen don’t take bottled water with them when they’re out on Lake Victoria for the day,” says Thomas Mango, a Bunyala district official who is helping with the demonstration. “They now drink the water in the lake and it’s contaminated. This provides them with a safe, healthy alternative.”
“This is an opportunity to reach out to the community and let them know their options,” says Samuel Githai of UNICEF in Kenya. “Households and communities need to be aware. So this project is about creating awareness and building knowledge of hydration solutions that can save lives.”
But the HydroPack’s real impact will be felt in disaster response, when relief groups are struggling to supply safe hydration to disaster victims.
“This is the answer for the first phase of a disaster,” says Dr. Carlton. “This is the weight and cube answer for transportation. All disaster relief comes down to dollars. And the dollars to move this will be greater than 90 percent less than the dollars to move bottled water, which is what is being done now. The time clock moves very quickly in a disaster situation. To get drinkable water is a major logistics problem.”
“I’ve extensively researched other water technologies, and the Hydropack is the best solution for emergency hydration. Not only is it ideal for providing potable fluids, but it supplies the calories and electrolytes that are necessary for life. “
Charles Andiega, a twenty year old who was raised in the area, had other thoughts on his mind besides savings in transportation costs. “This product is amazing,”“When the floods came, it was unbearable. The sickness due to water was terrible. The HydroPack is an amazing solution that will help the people in the next flood.” he said. The night before, Charles had taken several HydroPacks home, put them in dirty water, and the next day became a evangelist for the technology, and enthusiasm rooted in his experience during the last massive flood to inundate the area. “Our drinking water is not clean to start with,” he explained.
Dr. Carlton further stressed the need to customize hydration solutions to local cultures. “You have to educate people about the importance of a technology like this. That’s why HTI’s collaboration with Eastman, the material supplier, and Modern Edge, a design firm that specializes in problem solving, is so important. It will make a great product even better because we’re allowing it to be customized by the people who will be using it in disaster situations.”
Modern Edge’s role in the pilot project is critical to understanding aspects of the packaging and labelling that help or impedes proper use.
“At the heart of usability is respect for the people that the product is being developed for, and that starts with listening,” said Austen Angel, owner of Modern Edge. The company is on site during the pilot to do extensive interviews with the households to better understand how users interact with the product.
HTI’s Hydropack demonstration pilot will continue for ten days. Upon completion, the company will donate a supply of HydroPacks™ to be used locally the next time the flood waters spread across Mudimbia.