On September 1, Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas with apocalyptic force. Sustained winds of 185 mph, the highest on record, and an estimated three feet of rain caused 61 deaths (with 282 people still missing) and $7 billion of damage so far. Water purification brand and outdoor industry mainstay LifeStraw, which makes disaster relief a key part of its mission, was immediately on the job with its Safe Water Fund. As survivors sifted through the wreckage, LifeStraw’s managing director Alison Hill hopped a prop plane and headed to the island nation to personally help in relief and water purification efforts. Here’s what she has to say about the aftermath, the brand’s continued efforts, and most importantly how other outdoor brands (and individuals) can continue to help.
Why were you in the Bahamas?
Just days after the disaster, I was one of the first responders on the ground in the Bahamas along with several of LifeStraw’s disaster response partners. We were on one of the first seaplanes bringing thousands of pounds of aid—including LifeStraw Community purifiers—to Freeport on Grand Bahama Island. LifeStraw does not currently have staff in the Bahamas, but we have been working with the same team of initial responders to actively coordinate the provision of additional products and we have been connecting other partners with our network. One of the reasons it is so important to stay engaged in disasters for weeks and months after they hit is that the long-term public health impacts often become greater problems once initial supplies of emergency aid run out, and LifeStraw has always been committed to supporting long-term relief and recovery. Specifically, waterborne diseases are often delayed in their emergence and can present a longer risk than initial relief efforts may cover.
What is your background in these types of disaster situations?
LifeStraw has been actively involved in humanitarian and natural disaster response work since its parent company, Vestergaard, began making shelters for refugee camps over 25 years ago. LifeStraw has been active in responding to global disasters for many years, including the 2010 floods in Pakistan and devastating earthquake in Haiti in the same year, the Nepal earthquake in 2015, and recent natural disasters in India, Indonesia, and Mozambique. Each year, we respond to natural disasters with the support of our distributor network across the globe. This network of over 60 distributors allows us to provide product to impacted regions with urgency.
How bad is the situation in the Bahamas?
Based on my visit to the Freeport area, I was able to assess that most of the homes and structures were intact, but everything inside was destroyed. Power remains intermittent, and safe drinking water has been a huge challenge. While we continue to support water needs, our partners on the ground have continued to share the basic needs from the country’s hardest hit islands: Abaco and Grand Bahama. Abaco is completely destroyed and most people have been evacuated to shelters in Nassau.
What is LifeStraw doing to help?
In addition to sending our LifeStraw Community large scale water purification product via our Safe Water Fund, we’ve taken an active role in coordinating additional relief from the outdoor industry and other partners.
How can other companies help?
Because many needs exist outside of safe drinking water, we’d love to leverage our friends in the outdoor industry to support the additional needs we know of. These include sleeping pads, clothes (for warm weather for kids and adults), shoes and sandals (for kids and adults), outdoor games (schools won’t be back in session for months, and kids have very little to play with), and coolers. Other critical supplies that are needed if you have contacts outside the industry include diapers, formula, baby clothes, and hygiene items. If your product doesn’t fit this list, but you still want to help, sponsorship for shipping costs is in high need with many of our partners. Please consider that option as well.
There are several things LifeStraw can do to help you make an impact. When it comes to distribution and logistics support, we are working with Flexport.org and other distribution partners to get product on the ground and ensure your donations make it to those in need. We can also provide feedback from the field. The LifeStraw team will be headed back to the Bahamas in the coming weeks, and can provide updates via them and our distribution partners for you to utilize in social media/website messaging, etc. and ultimately ensure that your products get to the people who need it.
Do companies that make gear have a moral responsibility to do more than just make gear?
Every company—not just those in the outdoor industry—has a responsibility to consider the impacts of their operations on their employees, the environment and the wider community. As a humanitarian brand, this mindset is core to our DNA and the reason we became a retail brand. We remain committed to creating and innovating new water filtration products until safe drinking water is a human right, not a privilege.
What are you seeing there that is giving you hope?
As with any emergency we’ve responded to, we are continuously encouraged by the amount of partnership and grit demonstrated by the organizations that respond alongside us. With Dorian specifically, we’ve been impressed by the willingness of a few outdoor partners to step up and provide product donations—but we’d love to see a broader commitment to the human impacts of our changing environment and challenge our partners in the outdoor industry to get engaged.