We all know people can survive for days without food, but not without water. This tenet of human biology often drives individuals and organizations to donate bottled water in the aftermath of disaster.
Unfortunately, the best of intentions can have terrible consequences. And when it comes to disaster relief, bottled water can quickly become a costly environmental catastrophe.
Let’s start with cost: to send 100,000 bottles of water from Miami to the Dominican Republic by air costs $300,000 in transportation alone. The water itself is $50,000. After this $350,000 worth of bottled water makes it to the Dominican Republic, it’s only enough to hydrate 40,000 people for a single day.
That’s right: 40,000 people for one single day. The 2010 earthquake in Haiti affected more than three million people.
That’s not the end of the story. After a disaster, infrastructure and basic services are on hold. Because local waterways are often the only way out of the city, environmental issues proliferate.
This shipment of bottled water arrived in Haiti:
Alternatively, investing in local water purification projects provides drinking water for the same number of people for just $300. Donating cash to organizations coordinating water purification systems is 1,166 times less expensive than shipping water to a disaster zone, and generates no plastic trash.
It boils down to this: If you’re thinking about helping survivors of disaster events, use your compassion for good. Find a reputable charity to support through InterAction or Charity Navigator. Help more people. Give responsibly. Donate cash.