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The IoP chief salutes packaging's important role in helping get aid to victims of December's tsunami

The recent Indian Ocean tsunami is estimated to have killed more than 150,000 people. Up to 2m people still desperately need food aid. The damage to infrastructure, and the lack of suitable transportation, means logistical difficulties are likely to hamper food distribution.

However, while we try to take in the scale of the tragedy, we might also reflect on packaging’s positive role in alleviating the worst effects of disasters like this. For example, clean water is still the greatest need. Without it disease risks become acute. Where tanked fresh water cannot get to people, small volume plastic bottle water is used to ensure people have a clean, fresh supply.

In one Sri Lankan town a brewery has temporarily stopped making beer and switched to bottling water. The Lion brewery has so far produced over 200,000 glass bottles for shipment to affected areas. These are distributed through an aid agency and then recovered from central points for reuse.

There are many cases of rapid localised aid collection to assist those affected. Indonesian Mennonite churches collated and distributed 22,000 relief kits, in addition to food, to distribute to the survivors. Each comprised four wrapped soap bars, a bottle of shampoo, 10 cups of powdered laundry detergent [both of these items in re-sealable plastic bags], toothpaste, four packaged toothbrushes, four bath towels, hairbrush, comb, fingernail clippers, assorted bandages, sanitary pads, etc. The kits are all carefully boxed or bagged to avoid spillage.

So, this is one of the disasters around the world where humanitarian aid and distribution of relief has benefited tremendously from packaging.

However, one final thought. As the density of packaging increases rapidly in an emergency, there is also a large challenge of associated waste, so policies needs to be built into programmes to ensure that when the relief effort is over, the problems of waste disposal don’t continue for struggling economies