The Cost of Bottled Water During Disaster Response

A common response for supplying water to disaster victims is to send bottled water. Bottled water is pre-packaged, safe, clean and convenient.

In some scenarios, bottled water may present the most logical choice, particularly in well-developed countries where there is an abundant supply and a well-developed transport infrastructure.

However, the logistical challenges of getting bottled water to a disaster zone can be formidable.

  • Bottled water is bulky
  • Bottled water is heavy
  • Bottled water is expensive
  • Bottled water can clog the supply chain
  • Bottled water can compete for valuable transportation assets

Bottled water may present a viable short-term response to an unfolding disaster, but it is not a practical mid- to long-term solution.

"When the well is dry, we know the worth of water" - Benjamin Franklin

The Challenge

The challenge in any disaster situation is to provide victims with a safe and reliable source of clean water.

Based on the SPHERE Minimum Standards, each disaster victim should ideally have access to 15 litres (about 4 gallons) of potable water each day for drinking, cooking, cleaning, and personal hygiene.

The Problem

A typical bottle of water is about 0.5 litres (16.9 oz) by volume and weighs about 0.5 kg (1.1 lbs). Doing the math, this gives us 15 kg (33 lbs) in weight of water per person per day. If we have 10,000 people to respond to the numbers become 150,000 kg (about 330,700 lbs).

15 litres / person / day 15 litres / 3.96 gallons 15 kg / 33 lbs
24 bottle case @ 16.9 oz bottle 12 litres / 3.17 gallons 12 kg / 26.45
1 pallet @ 60 cases (1,440 bottles) 720 litres / 190 gallons 720 kg / 1,587 lbs
Cost of water (including transportation and logistics) $1.85 per gallon (FEMA)  
Cost of water / person $7.40 per day $51.80 per week
Cost of water / 10,000 people $74,000 per day $518,000 per week
The cost of bottled water adds up quickly!

These calculations are approximate and can vary depending on the situation, however they clearly demonstrate the cost of providing bottled water to disaster victims quickly becomes very expensive (and we didn't account for other factors such wastage, medical center needs, etc.)

The pros and cons of bottled water in disaster response:

Pros Cons
  • Uniformly packaged
  • Easily stored and handled
  • Individual units easy to distribute
  • Readily available in most developed countries
  • Guaranteed to be safe and risk free (regulated by FDA in USA)
  • Trusted and readily accepted
  • Palatable
  • Expensive
  • Bulky
  • Heavy
  • Ties up logistics supply chain and much needed resources
  • Has expiry date (due to plastic packaging)
  • Produces much packaging waste
  • Susceptible to price gouging

The Solution

A valid, practical solution is to eliminate the shipment of expensive, heavy, and bulky bottled water, and instead secure local water sources, making them safe to drink.

Examples of local water sources are:

  • Stockpiled bottled water
  • Water pipes and cisterns
  • Hot water tanks
  • Rainwater catchment and snow
  • Private and communal wells
  • Swimming pools
  • Lakes and ponds
  • Rivers and streams
  • Natural springs
  • New bore wells

Water Purification Systems (WPS) that can be deployed using a smaller transportation and logistical effort are better suited to provide water to disaster victims over a short to medium period of time.

Compared to the alternatives, such systems would need to be:

  • Affordable
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to deploy
  • Easy to operate
  • Easy to maintain
  • Reliable

The AidGear Oasis-3 water purification system is a portable and cost-effective alternative to supplying bottled water in a disaster response situation.

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