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Use of Lifestraws in disaster situations

Harriette Purchas

Dear RedR Technical Support Team

I have a query related to the range of water purification/treatment options that are utilised in disaster situations.

Currently we distribute Vestergaard Family Lifestraws as part of its box offering. However, I am interested to learn more about other products such as aqua tabs and whether there are any reported problems with ingestion of these products, or problems with the importation of certain chemicals into certain countries.

If you have any information related to common forms of household level water treatment that are used in post-disaster situations I would be very grateful.

Many thanks,


2 Answers

Martin Currie _ Aqueum


Glad to hear that my response at least had comedy value...

I contacted Vestergaard to ask them when the Lifestraw Family 2.0 ( will be generally available but am still awaiting their response. DelAgua Health had been trialling it in Rwanda ( I understand it is supposed to improve usability and imagine Vestergaard would be very interested to hear your feedback.

Also, if you haven't seen it already, a recent discussion on household chlorination is available here:

Kind regards


Harriette Purchas

What is the reason behind the desired change?

There are some benefits that you get with Lifestraws and similar filtration based products that you won’t get with chemical disinfectants like Aquatabs Aquatabs for example have not been proven effective against Cryptosporidium oocysts. For this reason, if water to be treated by Aquatabs is likely to have been contaminated by sheep, cattle, etc. I would recommend boiling or ultrafiltration prior to using the Aquatabs for residual disinfection.

Turbidity and suspended solids can also shield pathogens from disinfection, I therefore wouldn’t recommend Aquatabs or similar on turbid or coloured water unless it is first adequately filtered. Lifestraws and similar disinfect by filtration, hence they can be used directly with turbid water.

Another potential issue with chemical disinfectants is that they require a certain concentration for a certain length of time to disinfect the water. Aquatabs require 30-60 minutes and it is important that the volume of water that they are designed to treat is not significantly exceeded. Point of use personal filtration devices like Lifestraws are, in my opinion, more foolproof - generally speaking if you can suck the water with the normal resistance they are working normally. Unfortunately it’s not quite as clear cut with the larger Family units although water coming out the blue tap should generally be OK.

There is certainly less risk of ingesting a Lifestraw than a tablet & emergency shelters don’t tend to come with high level cupboards so that you can keep disinfectants and medicines out of reach of children.

Conversely the big downside of point-of-use filtration devices like Lifestraws is the cost. If you have a short term disaster with clear water that only requires disinfection then chemical disinfection tablets like Aquatabs can save more lives for the same budget. That said, if you know the water is clear, that may be because it has been treated, in which case you would probably be even more cost effective disinfecting at point of treatment, if you can maintain disinfectant residual through to the point of use.

I don’t know about import issues - I could even envisage issues with some customs officials in clearing a large number of Lifestraws. I know one membrane manufacturer for example who didn’t sell their ultrafiltration product in the Middle East. Export regulations on equipment capable of enrichment were cited as the reason… Unless others have a feel for this, perhaps a logs expert may be better placed to comment.

It would be helpful to know the exact context and motivation for moving from Lifestraws so that we can recommend specific solutions that overcome the specific issues. There are plenty contexts in which neither LifeStraws nor Aquatabs would be appropriate, and I would say that some form of water safety plan is required every time.

Kind regards



Martin, thanks for the advice, and for making me laugh about the ingestion of lifestraws and the lack of medical cabinets in emergency tents. That definitely bought a smile to my face –but is also a very good point! You asked what our motivations were for moving away from the Lifestraw. Having conducted several evaluation trips, I have consistently found that the uptake and use of the Family Lifestraws is mixed. Most recently when I was in Mindanao evaluating our response to Typhoon Pablo, recipients said they preferred using aquatabs and hypersol. Consequently I am interested in the value and scope of these, or other, alternatives. Regards, Ali

Harriette Purchas gravatar imageHarriette Purchas ( 2014-01-24 09:54:11 )