Monday 20 September 2010

For how long should a bar of soap last?

This isn't an idle question!

Exclude detergent usage in the kitchen, the washing of  clothes, shampoo to wash your hair, and just concentrate on how much soap a person uses to wash themselves. Take me for example, at home I tend to buy in bulk, buying large bottles of body wash, value packs of several cakes of soap at a time. I usually have several different types of body wash on the go simultaneously.  Then there is the soap, hard or liquid,  located in the bathroom and in the kitchen for hand washing.   At home I shower once a day. If I am going out, have been to the gym or have been working in the garden or the like, then there would be a second, and rarely a third . Additionally, I would wash my hands after a toilet visit and probably several times more in the course of an average day. But all that said, I have never actually calculated how long one bar of soap lasts.

Here in India, it is different. The biggest I buy is one bar of soap, and that is a small size compared to the standard size in the UK. I don't have a spare one in the house  but  I checked on the side of the Lux body wash container - it is 125ml. Now I tend to keep the body wash for traveling, and as emergency supplies, so my normal daily washing tipple is my bar of soap.  I reckon, barring the odd one which has slipped out of my hands to go flying off down the squat toilet, that I get through one bar at least every two weeks, give or take. It was definitely more in the hot season when I was showering 4 times every day at least!

Anyways, after the last flying bar episode I had been thinking I was using a lot of soap. But was I really using a lot or just thinking I was? Was the soap remaining wet in the humid atmosphere making it not last as long? Was I using more soap to work up a lather here than at home?   That train of thought parked up until this week when I am doing some work to help with fund raising for an emergency response to the rising numbers of deaths from diarrhea and cholera that are being reported in the rural KBK region of southern Orissa. Fellow volunteer Nikki suggested approaching Hindustan Unilever re soap supplies. So we added this to our short but growing list of corporates to approach for emergency supplies as we try to get oral rehydration kits, water purification tablets etc into these very remote areas. 

When compiling a list of things we need to know when approaching these corporations for assistance, one thing is to have worked out just how many bars of soap we need.  I've read that a person infected with cholera produces about 15 litres of diarrheic fluid per day! Everything has to be washed. Every time a non infected person touches anything belonging to the infected person they should be washed. So there is quite a lot of washing. Hence the question how long does a bar of soap last?

Take the Kasipur block we are working  We know the number of villages. We know the number of households and people, adults and children, in each village. So if I using a bar every 2 weeks (14 days), then 4 people would use a bar in 14/4 = 3.5 days. Lets say 4. So lets say in an affected area, if a family of 4 uses 1 bar of soap every 2 days, that's 16 for the month. So for every 1000 people, we need 1000/4 * 16 = 4000 bars of soap! Retail, a bar costs 16 Rupees. That's 64,000 Rupees! Now I can see my financial acclimatization well nigh complete because that sounds a lot of money, and it is here in India. But a change of perspective later, with a cross check on the current exchange rate ( about 71 Rupees to the GBP, 45 Rupees to the US$) I remind myself that it is only just under 900GBP or $1400.

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