The Procter & Gamble Children’s Safe Drinking Water (CSDW) Program has been transforming lives since 2004. Working with more than 150 partners, P&G has distributed more 15 billion liters of clean water, helping to provide clean water to children and families in more than 90 countries.
Allison Tummon Kamphuis is the program manager for the P&G Children’s Safe Drinking Water initiative, and leads a passionate team of people who are helping to make clean water a reality.
Below she tells Global Citizen about the impact of the program and what it’s like to help advance UN Global Goal 6 — clean water and sanitation for all.
Tell us about the CSDW Program and how it got started.
P&G is a company fueled by innovation and many of our products are for cleaning — we have products that clean your hair, your teeth, your skin, and all throughout your home. The P&G packets used in the CSDW Program were invented by one of our laundry scientists who was looking at how to clean dirty water to reduce water usage in washing clothes in water-stressed regions. When he began to think about how meaningful this could be — as at the time more than a billion people did not have access to clean water — he decided to see if there was potential to use this technology in households all over the world.
How hard was it to get the program started?
We actually developed the P&G packets as a consumer product, but the challenge was reaching people in very rural areas in a way that would be profitable — it was really hard to do. Once we saw that it was not going to be commercially successful and realized just how impactful the technology was to those who needed it, we launched the not-for-profit Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program in 2004. We had a core set of early partners and organizations that we worked with to help expand the reach and get the packets in the hands of more families around the world. Right after the program started, a tsunami hit in Southeast Asia, and we learned just how valuable the packets are in times of emergency.
How do the packets work?
It’s really quite amazing when you see it work. We’ve been able to pack the power of a water treatment plant into a small 4-gram packet. Each packet can treat 10 liters of dirty, potentially deadly, water in just 30 minutes with just a bucket, a spoon, and a cloth. The powder contains a coagulant, some flocculants, and a disinfectant — a type of chlorine that kills the bacteria and viruses in the water. These ingredients are commonly used in water treatment facilities and the food industry.
It’s a pretty simple process. You add the powder and stir for five minutes. The powder coagulates or sticks together, and the visible floc eventually settles to the bottom of the bucket, and then is separated out by pouring the water through a cotton cloth as a filter. Then you wait 20 minutes for the disinfectant to work and then it’s ready to drink — a total of 30 minutes later.
Why is P&G involved in clean drinking water?
P&G started as a company that made soap and candles in 1837 and has been serving consumers for more than 180 years. We want to be a force for good and for growth. Clean drinking water is one of the world’s most basic needs and yet more children still die every day from drinking contaminated water than from Malaria and HIV/AIDS combined. So there is a big need for the 844 million people who don’t have reliable access to clean water.
Lack of clean water and proper sanitation and hygiene are two huge barriers to eradicating global poverty. As we work collectively toward universal water and sanitation under SDG 6, our P&G packets are a tool to help make a difference today while more permanent and sustained solutions are put into place.
How did P&G and the Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program get involved with National Geographic and Global Citizen for ACTIVATE?
SDG 6 is focused on providing clean water and sanitation for all. It’s a global problem, and we have worked with both National Geographic to tell the stories of women and communities affected by the global water crisis. Over the past five years, we’ve also campaigned and made commitments with Global Citizen to provide clean water in schools and in emergencies. By working with partners like Global Citizen and National Geographic, who each have a great reach and are focused on driving action, together we can help bring awareness to the water crisis and the many solutions, such as the P&G Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program, that are making a difference. Someday, I hope we’ll have a world where our packets are no longer needed because everyone will have access to clean drinking water.
How has the program personally impacted you?
Over the past decade, I have traveled to about 25 countries where I have met hundreds of children and their families, whose lives have been transformed by clean water. I’ve met some incredible women who face such a daunting challenge every day to provide for their families. It’s an inspirational and emotional experience each and every time. I’m so warmly welcomed by these communities along with our NGO partners. It is always clear which communities have the benefit of clean water — the children are healthier, I see young girls the same age as my two daughters in school, and the parents are engaged in productive economic opportunities for their families.
One special story for me is about Mary — a caring, resilient, and optimistic young mother of two children in Western Kenya. I met Mary when she was pregnant with her third child and volunteering at her local community health center as part of our CSDW program with CARE International. After Mary’s sister narrowly survived cholera, her family felt particularly grateful to have access to clean water through the program. A few months after my visit, Mary and her family welcomed their new baby girl, and I was quite touched when I learned they named her Allison. It is my hope that she grows up in a world where she, like my own girls, has access to clean water, a good education, and proper health care so she can thrive and reach her dreams.