Procter & Gamble (P&G) is currently running a promotional campaign under their brand name PUR where, when you use their product coupons between now and April 6th, for each coupon used, they will donate 1 liter worth of PUR Purifier of Water packets to third world countries.
Using the tag line "Save Money, Improve Lives" P&G hopes to distribute 50 million liters of water to areas of need. According to news releases on the program's website, "PUR Purifier of Water is engineered to be a mini-water treatment plant in a packet. The product removes dirt, cysts, and pollutants, and kills bacteria and viruses in contaminated water."
On the surface, this appears to be a very noble and worthy cause and, of course, it is. Access to clean water is a huge problem in many developing nations and water-borne diseases result in the death of millions of children and adults each year. According to the United Nations Human Development Report 2006 Summary, over 1.1 billion people worldwide do not have access to clean water.
But what are the problems inherent with this campaign? Well, to begin, PUR water purifier packet donations do not result in a long-term solution for these areas. Once the packets run out, these individuals are left with the same dirty water full of "worms, bacteria and germs". So, while they are undoubtedly providing a much needed resource in the short-term, it is not a very viable long-term solution for these communities.
What does Procter & Gamble have to gain from their donations? A lot of very good publicity as well as encouraging consumers to purchase their products when they otherwise might not. Additionally, they are, in effect, tapping into a huge market in these countries. Under the Live, Learn and Thrive Initiative, P&G has been selling their PUR water filtration packets at cost to not-for-profit and humanitarian groups for use in the developing world. If they hook aid agencies and local governments into purchasing packets of PUR for a short-term fix rather than investing in infrastructure to provide long-term water solutions for these communities, it could turn into a very large financial gain for the company down the road.
From a consumer or citizen perspective, if you are concerned about the lack of clean water in these communities, you can donate money to organizations that concentrate on providing long-lasting solutions, such as H20 Africa, Water Aid or Charity Water, who fund projects that include the installation and rehabilitation of freshwater systems by digging wells and training local water committees. Granted, it's not as easy as buying a bottle of Tide detergent, but it will have a lot longer lasting impact.