Clifford Wahanya, owner of Emergency Relief Supplies (ERS) in Nairobi, was slightly nervous as the sun rose on the third day of the HydroPack pilot demonstration. This was the first day the participating households would be surveyed regarding their acceptance of the HydroPack, and the first day that samples would be taken for laboratory testing. ERS has supplied logistical support to KWAHO (Kenyan Water for Health Organization), the Kenyan NGO running the pilot.
As it turned out, he had reason to be concerned: it was difficult for the field workers doing the collection to find hydrated Hydropacks. The filters were so well liked by the community; many of them had already been consumed by 9 am.
"Wow. I've never seen anything like this,” he observed.
The HydroPack™, manufactured by Hydration Technology Innovations, is a half-liter osmotic pouch that self-hydrates as it filters any contaminated water. The driving force for the process is a drink powder in the pouch containing sugars and electrolytes. The process results in a clean, flavored drink. The pilot in Mudimbia, a small village in the Budalangi district of western Kenya, is 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.
"Taste and acceptance issues are very important to us,” says Keith Lampi, COO of HTI.
“Even during emergencies, if water products don’t generate a good-tasting drink, it can be difficult to persuade disaster victims to use them. Chemical-based technologies are a good example of that. So this early indication that the product is achieving very high acceptance rates is just great. Of course purity is paramount, and KWAHO’s sampling and lab testing is critical."
Linah Aloo, one of the five field workers on KWAHO’s staff echoed Lampi’s remarks. “This project is very gratifying, to see the children’s faces when they drink out of the HydroPack,” she said, while approving of the project in general. “Compared to other projects I’ve worked on, this one has a lot more research being done. There is more talking to the people.”
But the smiling faces shouldn’t obscure the significance of the HydroPack’s potential impact on disaster relief strategies and what that means for the human victims. One of those victims, Ann Jonai, was one of eight children in a fatherless household when the floods swept through her home in 2007.
“The floods were terrible,” she said, holding her two year old sister, Brittany. “Our water is bad even when it is not flooding, but when the floods came it was even worse. We had no water, so we had to drink the dirty water. It was very difficult, and there was a lot of sickness.”
Ann, twenty one years old, lives with her mother now, and helps run the household. As she spoke while holding Brittany, her younger sister never took her mouth off the HydroPack’s drinking straw, nicely illustrating the relationship between product acceptance and the ultimate success of a disaster relief technology.