A $10 Backpack That’s Helping Solve the World’s Water Crisis

March 25, 2014 By Ashley E. (Chandler) Chang

The global water crisis is truly staggering. UNICEF estimates more than 1 billion people live without access to clean, safe water, and the number doubles when you look at access to adequate sanitation. It also disproportionately impacts women and children. In fact, by the time you finish this blog, or every 21 seconds, another child will have passed away from unsafe water and poor sanitation-related diseases – most of which are preventable.

PackH2O_Water_BackPack-963David Fischer, CEO of Greif, Inc. witnessed this first-hand a little over four years ago when he traveled to Haiti to assist with the relief efforts following the devastating earthquake. In Haiti and water stressed-regions all over the world, women and girls walk on average of 3.5 miles just to get water to their homes, and most do not have any other option but to use dirty buckets or jerrycans that previously held pesticides, fuel, or other chemicals.

He then had an “aha” moment: the “Achilles’ heel” of the global water crisis is carrying water from source to home and challenged his Delaware, Ohio company to come up with a better solution. By working closely with USAID to consult with women in Haiti and with the Clinton Global Initiative and Habitat for Humanity International, they created a water backpack seven times lighter and seven times smaller than an average plastic jerrycan.

The Innovation

Enter the PackH2O—a low-cost water backpack can hold five gallons of clean water, which is roughly the amount needed per day in households across the developing world. The easy-to-carry PackH2O is serving as a “catalyst for solving the Global Water Crisis.” The pack’s inner liner is removable, and thanks to a solar water decontamination method called SODIS, sunlight is all you need to need to disinfect the liner of water-borne pathogens for its next use

The water backpack “relieves the physical stress of carrying water by distributing the burden evenly on the wearer’s back.”

Check out the Innovations in Smart Power Video − PackH2O!

Impact – Overseas and in America

Pack H20Today, the PackH2O has distributed more than 100,000 packs across five continents with the help of their NGO partners who are an essential part of their business model and make up a critical part of their value chain by delivering the packs from ‘ports to the people,’ while also providing in-country training and education on how to use them.

By working to ‘do good’ in the world, these two companies are also doing well in their own communities. “Giving back,” says David Fischer of his 136-year-old company, “has long been a mantra of our culture.” Greif leverages its expertise as one of the world’s largest industrial packaging companies to manufacture the PackH2O. The water backpacks are then marketed by the Columbus-based PackH2O, LLC, with Battelle, a big research firm nearby, leading the R&D.

In addition to a partnership with Ohio State University, the PackH20 Team raises awareness of the global water crisis by sponsoring a “Race for Safe Water” team at the upcoming Capital City Half Marathon, working with local high schools, and other activities. “Watching this water backpack take shape and change the lives of women and children in Haiti and other impoverished regions has been rewarding in and of itself,” described David in 2012. It also means more sales, marketing, and business processing jobs in Ohio.

Reaching the 1 billion people in need requires scaling up operations in a major way, but making a game-changing global impact is exactly what these two Ohioan companies aim to do.

The USGLC is proud to include Greif PackH20 in our Innovations in Smart Power Campaign – sponsored by Coca-Cola, Carlson Hotels, Land O’Lakes, and PYXERA – which looks at the unique way the government, NGOs, development professionals, and businesses are working together to create real solutions for eradicating poverty, for advancing our security, and for advancing our economic interest.