Haiti

UPDATE: Partners in Health is now accepting only monetary donations, rather than supplies.

Haitians are desperately in need of potable water, and bottled water corporations have a history of lending a huge helping hand to disaster relief efforts.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the American Beverage Association donated over 200,000 cases (over 100 tractor trailers) of bottled water.

After 9/11, a Manhattan Starbucks infamously charged rescue workers $130 for three cases of bottled water.

Lipsey Water, which claims to possess the “largest national stockpile of bottled water inventoried exclusively for disaster relief,” has already donated 1.2 million water bottles to the Haitian relief effort. Incidentally, Lipsey’s bottles are made of glass, which they argue is less harmful to personal and environmental health than plastic; take a spoonful of salt and then read about it here.

Earthquake victims need safe drinking water! But...do they need bottles?

In times of emergency, bottled water corporations are in a great position to donate large quantities of water — but only because they’ve been privatizing a public resource, and selling it back at exorbitantly inflated rates, for so long. And we have to ask why it takes a disaster — whether it be a hurricane, a tsunami, an earthquake, or a terrorist attack — for these corporations to donate, considering that 884 million people don’t have potable water, and that 10% of all disease-related deaths could be prevented by access to clean drinking water.

I was pleasantly surprised (and immediately suspicious) to read that Coca-Cola, the uber-corporation we all love to hate, actually has an impressive resume on the disaster-relief front.

Working in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the partnership is helping remote, tsunami-hit areas of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Thailand to “build back better” by expanding community access to water and sanitation services and infrastructure. For example, in the fishing village of Sanga-U, located at the southern tip of Thailand’s Lanta Island, 10 check dams have been built to collect and retain rainwater for 117 households.

Of course we would all prefer a long-term solution that addresses infrastructural problems of sanitation and distribution. Unfortunately, in times of emergency, the time factor often takes precedence, leaving wrecked nations with no alternative but to succumb to the intense and enticing pressure of multinational corporations that are more interested in profiting from a vulnerable and malleable market than genuinely addressing complex, deeply-rooted humanitarian issues. Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine, on “disaster capitalism”:

…we have to be absolutely clear that this tragedy, which is part natural, part unnatural, must under no circumstances be used to 1) further indebt Haiti, and 2) to push through unpopular corporatist policies in the interests of our corporations. And this is not a conspiracy theory. They have done it again and again.

So what are the socially- and environmentally- responsible alternatives to delivering case after case of bottled water to earthquake victims?

Nor any drop to drink

First of all, let me say with no hesitation whatsoever that HERE@Brown is absolutely right. If you have bottled water, DONATE IT. In the United States of America, we have absolutely no need for bottled water. Haiti needs all the drinkable water it can get. But if you don’t already have bottled water, don’t buy it to donate. Instead, consider:

- urging Coca-Cola (and Pepsi) to provide fair, sustainable solutions to the problem of potable water, rather than just dumping plastic water bottles onto desperate people. Coke: sustainability@na.ko.com Pepsi: PerformanceWithPurpose@pepsico.com
donating to Pure Water for the World, which has been bringing hygiene education and clean water to Haiti’s schools, clinics and orphanages since 2008. Donate here.
-reminding all your bottle-chugging friends that America’s tap water is perfectly clean and delicious. If you or your loved ones have any bottled water, send it to where they really need it — and for goodness’ sake, use a reusable bottle instead!

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