Haiti and Water

PET Preforms

Whilst looking at various sources for the last post in the FDR series, one story struck me as very interesting, enough to warrant a further look.

This is absolutely not intended as a criticism because the US response to the Haiti earthquake has been nothing less than stunning, even more so when compared to the UK armed forces, despite our obvious historic, political, and cultural ties to the region.

The particular story that piqued my interest was about water delivery.

On the US Naval Institute blog, a post describes how the ingenuity of the crew on board the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson has facilitated rapid delivery of water to the stricken country.

Captain Bruce Lindsay said

Although you can say that there is a humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and that is a core competency of the United States Navy, each one of these is slightly different.

This is an interesting statement in itself and food for thought as the UK enters into its forthcoming defence and security review.

But really, what we do is we rely on the ingenuity of the United States sailor.

Like I said, they created this water tree, and that came from the Lincoln carrier, when they were doing Banda Ache. They had created this, and so our sailors went online, found the lessons learned, and created another one, improved it, tweaked it a little bit so, as I said, we can put out a lot of water.

One might reasonably ask if disaster relief is a core mission why are the USN looking up designs for water distribution equipment from six years ago and making it on board, perhaps something for US bloggers to cover.

The ever-excellent blog, Information Dissemination, tackled the issue more closely, crunching the numbers and asking why thousands of litres of bottled water were being flown in from the USA whilst the desalination plant onboard the USS Carl Vinson and other vessels on the scene seemed to have been underutilised.

In a blogger’s roundtable Rear Admiral Ted Branch, the commander of the carrier strike group centred on the USS Carl Vinson, said that they had delivered approximately 330,000 litres of potable water in 12 days or 27,500 litres per day, the blog post casts doubts even on these numbers.

At a low consumption of 3 litres per day per person in hot weather, the effort is supporting nearly 9,200 people. Port au Prince has a population of roughly 1 and a half million people.

The Red Cross has also flown in two and a half million litres of water

When one considers the fuel requirement, maintenance, and airframe hours this would seem an inefficient way of delivering what in comparison is actually a small amount of water. It also means that a significant proportion of the finite resource of helicopter and airlift is absorbed by heavy and bulky water and this is especially acute when deck, ramp, or strip space is at a premium.

The desalination plant aboard the USS Carl Vinson is reportedly rated at 380,000litres per day excess but this is for naught if there is a bottleneck in getting it to shore. The Captain’s comment about ingenuity was directed at the production onboard of a water tree or filling point that allows sailors to manually fill 20 litre Jerry Can style containers or ‘jugs’ before loading them onto helicopters.

Ironically, the poor state of Haiti’s infrastructure has meant the need has not been as acute as a more developed area. Mains water and power were poor so most people managed with generators and bottled or bulk supplied water anyway but that said, is there a better way that could deliver more for less in the acute phase of natural disaster response?

Delivering bottled water in the very early stages of an acute phase response is sensible because of obvious need, portability, ease of distribution to dispersed areas, and the ease of transport but as the response progresses the empty bottle and the need to move filled bottles becomes an issue., the tyranny of distance and helicopter availability works against volume distribution. How many containers could a first response vessel reasonably be expected to carry, what happens when they run out and other questions also spring to mind.

The problem of emergency water supply attracts a wide range of solutions from an even more wide range of providers, everything from ‘life straws’ to floating desalination barges, high capacity ashore pumping equipment and flexible containers or bladders are available so there are certainly other ways but are they feasible for a first response, within 2 to 3 weeks?

A possible solution is the humble and ubiquitous ISO container combined with desalination or purification plant and bottling/pouching equipment.

Untreated water can come from a variety of sources; offshore, beaches, watercourses, standing water features, or boreholes. Each requires a different approach to purification, seawater, for example, requires desalination but if it is obtained from the nearshore it may be contaminated or brackish, standing water will likely require extensive pre-filtering and in urban areas, the presence of pollutants from damaged petrochemical or industrial facilities may be a significant issue.

However, equipment exists to address all these issues, this is not a technology issue.

The desalination plant, filtration equipment, pumps, bottling equipment, and generators can be combined with standard-sized ISO containers to create self-contained solutions

Rather than transporting water, transport the means to create it, collapsing the supply chain.

A modular system comprising fuel storage, pumping, filtration, desalination, pouching/bottling, and storage equipment could be carried by a wide variety of ships or aircraft and rapidly deployed. The world is geared up for the ISO container and the military is no different so logically, any system must be based on the 20 or 40-foot container form factor.

ISO containers are robust and easily transported by land, sea, or air. Weights tend not to be a problem for sea or land-based delivery but when transporting ISO containers by air the weight of the container is likely to be disproportionate, a 20-foot conventional container weighs over 2,200 kg. Most of the equipment within the container will be low density so it is unlikely to go over the weight limitations of the aircraft.

The C17, A400, and C130 can handle ISO containers but basing the equipment on a lighter material would deliver benefits in deployability; every kilogram has to be paid for in range and fuel load.

The Dutch ‘Cargoshell’ design uses a collapsible container that makes extensive use of composites to reduce weight. Built-in GPS allows efficient tracking of remotely deployed units and remote condition monitoring will also support efficient maintenance regimes to be used. The collapsible feature would not be used but the weight reduction would certainly deliver benefits.

Although tactical transport aircraft do not usually use ISO containers, combinations of 463L pallets being the norm, they can carry them. Getting them on and off may be an issue but there exists a wide range of commercially available container handling equipment and studies have been carried out on equipment that could fit the C17 with self-contained integral container load and offload systems.

There may be a temptation to eschew the humble ISO container and use a bespoke ‘military style’ enclosure in order to shave a couple of kilograms off but this would inevitably push up the cost and mean that the huge installed base of civilian ISO container facilities, expertise and familiarity could not be utilised.

A number of suppliers produce containerised integrated desalination/filtration plant, ContenO of Belgium offer a range of 20 or 40 foot ISO units that incorporate power generation, compressed air production, water treatment, UV treatment, bottle production, filling and labeling.

A single self-contained 20 foot ISO container ‘mini factory’ can produce 36,000 litres per day and the 40-foot version, 120,000 litres. The 20ft version is easier to handle and transport so would probably be the optimal solution and has been approved by the US DoD but the 40-foot version is attractive because of its high output volume.

The US technology provider Aqua Technology also provides a range of solutions for portable water generation and packaging but rather than bottling, use a bagging system.

Worldwater and Solar Technologies in the USA make a number of transportable systems that utilise solar energy instead of diesel generators, in areas with sufficient sunlight this can reduce the logistics footprint considerably and even export excess power to run anything that might be considered useful and electrical!

A number of systems have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan with US Forces already and will no doubt already be in or on their way to Haiti. This is an important technology and could usefully be combined with the packaging systems detailed later in this post.

In addition to water, additives can be inserted into the production line to produce balanced fluid products or high-calorie energy drinks.

Once the water has been purified there are a number of options for packaging.

A typical 5 litre bottle would incorporate an integral carrying handle which is an important consideration when recipients may need to walk some distance from the distribution point, plastic bottles are also robust.

Empty PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) water bottles present a significant storage and transportation problem, space is limited aboard ships and aircraft and anything transported to the site will need fuel, equipment, and personnel. The ContenO system gets around this issue by incorporating a bottle production system that blows common PET Preforms into bottles. Preforms are widely available and more compact than full-size bottles but would still need to be transported to site, as can be seen from the image below, the preform is a fraction of the size of the full-size bottle but is still relatively bulky.

High Density Polythene (HDPE) uses pelletized resin rather than preforms so would be much more space-efficient if a blow moulding machine could be containerised.

The packaging industry has a number of innovative products that might be utilised to reduce consumable volume.

Flexible plastic bags can be filled and sealed in situ, rather than preforms this system uses rolls of plastic and as can be appreciated is much more space-efficient. Recipients gain access to the water by tearing the bag or using straws but they are relatively fragile and prone to damage although aluminium foil bags may improve robustness. Cardboard boxes and further manual handling would likely be needed.

Preprinted pouches, made with stiffer materials, with an integral resealable drinking spout could be used;

The external surface could be printed with survival instructions, locations of distribution points, emergency broadcast radio frequencies and other useful information although some of this would need to be overprinted in situ. These occupy more space than bags (in an unfilled state) but are still more space-efficient PET preforms.

Rapak and Scholl are global leaders in packaging solutions and their familiar ‘wine box’ may be a practical addition to the packaging mix.  Scholl have an integrated solution called the JerriBox (no sniggering at the back) and again, pre printing could be used to disseminate relevant information.

Transport away from the distribution point is an important consideration, individuals may be weak or injured so there is a practical limit to the packaging size before mechanical assistance is needed. PET bottles can have integral carrying handles and simple shoulder fabric bags or straps could be used.

Bottling, bagging pouching or boxing may not be required in all situations so bulk storage and distribution would need to included in any integrated system.

ISO container tanks can be quickly deployed and redeployed using DROPS or EPLS type vehicles  although empty, they are very space inefficient. Water bowsers may be found in the area and could be used also.

It is likely that local non-specialist transportation and material handling equipment will be available for use, basic flatbed trucks and forklifts can greatly assist the distribution and utilising local labour also has many benefits. Space efficient solutions include flexible bladders and tanks.

Butyl Products supply many military and civilian organisations with flexible tanks and storage bladders and there are hundreds of similar manufacturers.

A bladder tank could be filled directly whilst loaded onto a flatbed truck and water dispensed from there with a simple tap stand, no pumping at the dispensing point would be needed, gravity would do the job.

If forklift trucks are available then IBC containers become a very practical option. Again, extracting suitable products from the civilian packaging and transportation market allows the prevalent civilian infrastructure to be used.

A sample of manufacturers includes Rapak, Bulk Handling Australia, Fluid Bag, Greiff and Arlington Packaging but what characterises them is a common need for space and cost efficiency, exactly what is needed in this application.

Apart from the obvious requirement of flexibility and purity, any system must be able to utilise host nation personnel and equipment and has be as labour and space efficient as possible.

A 3x 20 foot ISO container system would incorporate a purification/bottling/bagging plant, initial consumables stock, fuel, pumps, hoses and sundry supplies such as cardboard boxes, packing equipment, spares and basic maintenance tools.

Manpower requirements would be modest in comparison with other methods.

2 systems could be transported on a single C17 flight and start meeting the needs of 12,000 people each withing a day or two of landing and a second flight would bring in personnel, mobile plant/forklift trucks, extra consumables and a truck to self deploy from the airhead and move bottled water locally as needed.

The UK, DFiD or UK Aid should purchase a couple of dozen of these, paint them in the Union Jack and hold them ready for deployment with a stock of PET preforms, additives and pouching plastic rolls. The APT(N) slot in Hurricane season filled by various RN and RFA vessels should carry at least one set, consumables and a DROP’s truck.

Moving bottled water from the bottling location may still need helicopters to get it to remote locations but putting something like these in place closer to recipients is a much more efficient use of resources than ferrying by helicopter, manually filled containers from ships moored offshore.

There is no doubt that water treatment and supply is a core mission requirement for all armed forces, usually carried out by combat engineering units such as the UK’s Royal Engineers but this is generally geared up for supplying their own national forces.

Moving beyond the acute phase of a response it is likely that these solutions would be supplemented and/or replaced with NGO delivered systems and the restoration of fixed infrastructure but a huge variety of solutions exist so it is a reasonable expectation that if disaster relief is a core mission of any nations armed forces then water supply to disaster areas must be included within the equipment and capability matrix.

Learning from the civilian packaging and transportation sector should be high on ‘things to do’ list because there are undoubted synergies to be exploited.

Lessons learned?

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