Social and Economic Innovation
Dr Philip Souter was a research scientist for Procter & Gamble UK, studying how to recycle laundry water to help with shortages when he saw a broader need: clean drinking water globally. He changed assignments and won funding to further research ways of making source water safe for drinking.
He developed a powder that when mixed with water removes dirt, cysts and pollutants, killing bacteria and viruses. The US Environmental Protection Agency approved its claims to remove over 98% of arsenic, 99.99% of dangerous viruses and bacteria including those that cause cholera.
From small packets, the powder is stirred into 10 litres of dirty water. First, metals, dirt, and parasites pull together to form bigger particles that fall to the bottom. The disinfectant in the powder kills viruses and bacteria, then the water is strained through a filter. This takes minutes and leaves water safe to drink.
P&G was not able to commercialise the technology as the people who needed it most, could afford it least. Then Dr Greg Allgood, a P&G scientist in the US persuaded P&G leadership to distribute the packets as a non-profit venture. Allgood today serves as Director of Procter & Gamble’s Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program, a philanthropic venture that operates with the support of over 100 partners such as CARE, Save the Children and UNICEF.
The small packet costs only $0.10, giving a person purified drinking water for $0.02 a day. Most of the packets are provided for free but they’re also sold by women’s groups to make them broadly available, but always as a non-profit effort.
Five controlled trials were conducted by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and Johns Hopkins University, involving more than 25,000 people in Guatemala, Pakistan Liberia, and Kenya. The product reduced diarrhoea by an average of 50 percent. Diarrhoea caused by contaminated water is a leading cause of illness and death among children in the developing world, killing more than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.
Since launching in 2004, P&G have delivered enough water purification packets to clean more than five billion litres of clean water, preventing an estimated 200 million days of disease and saving more than 26,000 lives have been delivered.