Aquabox is driven by its volunteers and financial supporters. Their enthusiasm and commitment remains as vital as it was in the small group that launched the charity over 20 years ago. It is this spirit which is ensuring that Aquabox remains a leading provider of clean water and other humanitarian aid to disasters around the World and gives us the motivation to go on building the organisation to meet the challenges of the future.
Yet we are also conscious of our long history and origins. You can read about these here, along with account of how Aquabox has developed over the years, constantly striving to make its work effective, efficient and just.
Aquabox was launched as a charity in 1992 by the Rotary Club of Wirksworth in Derbyshire, UK, with support from Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland and has retained that status to this day. Aquabox is one of the earliest of Rotary International (Britain and Ireland) box aid schemes.
It set out to provide safe drinking water and welfare aid items to communities affected by man- made and natural disasters and to areas affected by on-going deprivation. From an early stage there were two forms of Aquabox: boxes containing welfare aid to sustain families in the aftermath of disasters, including a water filter and chlorine purification tablets and boxes containing only water filters and purification tablets.
Packing was undertaken by volunteers from Wirksworth, including members of the Rotary Club of Wirksworth. In addition, empty boxes were dispatched to volunteers in other Rotary Clubs, Inner Wheel Clubs, schools, colleges, churches and youth organisations around the UK and Ireland and they purchased and packed the contents. Aquabox then arranged for the filled boxes to be transported and distributed by reputable aid agencies already established and trusted in disaster effected regions.
Funding was sought through donations and sponsorship of boxes by Rotary Clubs and other organisations. Our supporters have been strongly motivated by this direct involvement in the provision of aid and funding and the number of boxes distributed to disaster areas has grown strongly as shown in the graph below.
In 2013 we celebrated the achievement of dispatching 100,000 boxes with an estimated total current value of £12.5million to over 50 countries around the World (Figure 2).
Cumulative Growth of Aquaboxes in Response to Disasters Since Inception
Countries in Receipt of Aquaboxes
The disasters that Aquabox has responded to exceed fifty and some of the major ones are shown on Figure 1. The magnificent efforts of our volunteers in responding to these disasters are exemplified by our response to the Tsunami that affected the West coast of India and Sri Lanka on Boxing Day in 2004.
With support from clubs within Rotary International in Great Britain and Ireland we received £x00k of donations in a 3 month period following the disaster. We packed and shipped x hundred Aquaboxes, which were capable of producing over x million litres of clean water as well as providing materials to allow recipients to build temporary shelters and sustain themselves in the period which followed the disaster. This required massive contributions from our volunteers around the country which were typified at the Wirksworth depot where we had teams of up to 20 working every day for 2 months when demand for boxes was at its highest. The disaster in the Philippines in December 2013 evoked a similar response with donations in the 3 month period after the disaster totalling £x00 and with y00 boxes being air freighted or shipped to the affected area.
We have strong ties with aid agencies who distribute the boxes on our behalf. To illustrate the high regard that the agencies have for Aquabox we quote from a letter received from the Director of Programmes for Feed the Children:
“During an outbreak of cholera in Albania, I was speaking to our procurement officer at Feed the Children and asked if there was anything he could contribute to ease the situation. He mentioned the Aquabox, which at that time I had not heard of, and duly despatched around 50 boxes. These were soon in use and proved very effective in reducing the problem of the water supply. The week that they arrived in Albania I was asked to attend a meeting at the EU delegation where the head of ECHO (European Community Health Organisation) was visiting. At the meeting there were representatives from three other major agencies all of whom were directly or indirectly involved in healthcare. The first question asked by the ECHO representative was what we had done to help with the recent outbreak of cholera; this question was naturally directed at the health agencies. The answer from the three was an embarrassing, 'nothing', though they all had plans! When the same question was asked of Feed the Children I was able to explain, much to the annoyance of others, about the provision of Aquaboxes. The outcome of this was that a few days later I received a phone call from Brussels requesting us to apply for funding from ECHO, which they supported in full”.
Some of the agencies that we have worked with are included in Box 1.
Box 1: AQUABOX’S AID DISTRIBUTION PARTNER ORGANISATIONS
Aquabox started its operations in stables attached to a guest house near Wirksworth. Lack of space meant that boxes had to be stored and packed outside. We now operate from 4 modern warehouse units on the outskirts of Wirksworth with 300sq m of space for storage and packing of boxes and the assembly of AquaFilter Family units.
We now have volunteer shifts working in the depot every morning (8.30 – 11.00 am) of the week, except Wednesday and Sunday.
Visitors are always welcome, though we would welcome by prior arrangement for parties of more than three people.
As part of a strategy of continuous improvement and to more effectively meet the demands on Aquabox from disaster areas around the globe, major changes were made to the products we supply and the way that we operate in 2012. We introduced the new Aquafilter Family Filter units based on membrane filter technology to replace the former charcoal filters.
These AquaFilters have been developed by John Griffiths of the Safe Water Trust with support from engineers in Aquabox. They are a great improvement on the old system producing instant safe drinking water and having a much greater lifespan and capacity. The filters are assembled by a team of volunteers in our premises in Wirksworth. AquaFilter Family units are now supplied in every box. In addition, we are now distributing AquaFilter Community units, developed, manufactured and supplied by the Safe Water Trust. These have a much larger capacity and, as the name implies, they have been designed to support small communities such as schools, local hospitals and small villages.
In 2012 the decision was taken to offer only Aquabox Golds, which are full of new goods purchased in bulk at discounted prices and also to discontinue the practice of sending boxes to our supporters to pack (with limited exceptions). Both measures were introduced to ensure a consistent standard of contents and quality.
The decision to undertake most of the packing in-house was only taken after a lot of deliberation by the Trustees and consultation with all our volunteers because we knew that many of you found the system of filling boxes to be a very satisfying way of supporting charitable work and we fully appreciated the wonderful community involvement that some groups had been able to develop with schools, churches and other local organisations.
Aquabox welcomes, and works to increase levels of direct financial donations or by organising fundraising activities.
There have been a number of gains from making these changes:
Looking forwards, we recognise that a number of organisations have been consistently filling a large number of boxes each year to a high standard. We believe that these can become satellite stations for the packing of Gold boxes and the assembly of Aquafilter Family units (or components) with support from the Aquabox depot here in Derbyshire. We are working with a number of groups currently to develop this as a way of boosting our production whilst still maintaining quality standards.
The concept of global satellite stations is already well established. Aquabox in the UK has supported the development of independent Aquabox charities in Canada and Australia, which were established by Rotary Club of Stratford, District and Rotary Club of Eltham, District 9790, respectively. We look forward to our close collaboration continuing in the future.