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Can Trash Save Lives?

Foreign aid alliances have left a lot of “stuff” in Haiti and around the world, but can some of it actually be re-purposed and save lives? What about those big yellow waxed canvas water bladders that are nothing more than trash once the Oxfam relief water trucks no longer deliver water?


What If one bladder was used for catching the rain, as a rain basin or substitute roof and what if a second bladder were to be used to store the water collected? Would we have created a “grassroots” rain collection system, which would provide clean water and sustain a number of individuals currently without any access to water? If the recipients of the water had the incentive, would they trade their clean water for agricultural or other goods and expand their reach?

My next focus was to check with Patrick Cummings for “on the ground” intelligence, as Patrick is a Director of WWP and just returned from an extensive fact finding mission in Haiti. I also consulted with Ken Blair, our nuts and bolts guy and Director at Bank On Rain.

Patrick said it looked like a feasible idea but all the people in Haiti would need is the motivation—a leader on the ground, to put this plan into action as well as someone who is willing to maintain it. This is the tricky part, he said…. the people in Haiti have seen people come and go trying to offer ‘help’ and most often failing to do so. Has copious foreign aid destroyed any internal impetus to construct such a system? Would it take someone dedicated like Patrick; with an understanding of the people and culture in Haiti in various locations who were already trying to make a go of it, coupled with his engineering background to actually make the rain collection systems into a reality?

To get started use the sand bags (if you find them with a bladder) as the perimeter/wall or dig a depression in the ground to hold one of the two water bladders in place when full. This will become the storage for the water collected by a tarp or roof made from the second bladder. The bladder that collects rain (suspended above the storage bladder) should be supported with stakes as one would support a tent. It appears that just about all the connections that will be required to make a working system can be found on two water bladders; except for a screen to act as a filter for the incoming water to the storage bladder and possibly some rubber glue and material to plug any holes.

Note that if the logistics of moving a second bladder is too inefficient, an ordinary tarp could be used in a similar way to catch the water.

Bank On Rain will be testing this and writing up a simple instruction sheet for use in the field.


In my opinion this shift in thinking of re-purposing materials ‘dumped’ all over Haiti—turning ”trash” to “treasure” could save lives and bring about an empowering social movement. How can we encourage and nurture the thought process that moves toward sustainable solutions like this?  Would Oxfam help us find all the bladders in Haiti, and the rest of the world that they alone have used in relief situations like this? Do Oxfam have records with the GPS coordinates of all these “bladder” treasures so one by one we can track them down and work with the local people to solve a little bit of the global water crisis, one water bladder at a time!

If you have any questions for Patrick feel free to email him at  or any questions for Ken at

Have you ever seen people make “trash” useful for a charity water project? Please leave a comment below or email us at We would love to hear your stories or ideas! And don’t forget to check out my post Is there a recipe for SUCCESS in Haiti?

Special thanks to Caroline Di Diego @CASUDI , Ken Blair, and Patrick Cummings for their help in this post!

Emily Berg, Bank On Rain 2011 Intern and Researcher. THINK RAIN!

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Originally published August 15, 2011 on Posterous




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