A child drinking

A world of water innovation

By Dawn Plimmer 22 March 2015 2 minute read

It’s World Water Day, and at NPC we’ve been reflecting on another fascinating year working with the Stone Family Foundation, learning about and supporting innovative new approaches to providing safe water in Africa and Asia.

Innovation is what’s desperately needed to supply safe water to the 748 million people globally without access. 60,000 hand pumps are installed in sub-Saharan Africa each year, but around one-third of those installed in the last 20 years are broken, and it’s estimated that only 22% hand pumps in Ghana are functioning properly.

Traditional approaches clearly aren’t working. Funders have a critical role to play, and a responsibility, to help change this.

Firstly, by doing no harm. You might assume that installing new water points can only be a good thing, but if there’s no long term thinking, you’re setting up a community for failure when the water point breaks down and there’s no way of fixing it. If you want to fund water projects, make sure you ask about sustainability—is the water source reliable, where are the supply chains for spare parts and the mechanics to fit them, where does the money come from to pay for these?

Secondly, funders can proactively drive change by directing their support to organisations who are innovating to tackle the sustainability crisis. Often it’s not about technological innovation (in fact the most sustainable approaches are typically those that are the most low tech); instead there’s a need for innovation on the operational side—leveraging new revenue streams; setting up local businesses to supply, operate and maintain water points; and using data to monitor functionality and improve performance.

If you’re inspired to learn more about innovation in the water sector this World Water Day, take a look at some of the initiatives the Stone Family Foundation is supporting:

  • MSABI (Tanzania): sets up drilling, pump manufacturing and mechanic enterprises to install and maintain rural water points.
  • Safe Water Network (Ghana): operates Safe Water Stations which treat and sell affordable drinking water to local communities. Provides the training, tools and support for stations to be locally managed and operated as financially sustainable businesses.
  • Dispensers for Safe Water (Kenya): installs chlorine dispensers next to water points so communities can safely treat their water. Generates revenues through sales of carbon credits (chlorine is an alternative to boiling water, helping to reduce carbon emissions).
  • Water for People (Uganda): piloting entrepreneur-operated small piped water networks in rural areas, to understand where piped networks (compared with hand pumps) are most viable, and support communities to transition to piped networks over time.
  • Spring Health (India): provides safe, purified water to small villages using low cost chlorine treatment. It partners with entrepreneurs which sell the treated water from local stores.

NPC has supported the Stone Family Foundation with its grant-making since 2006. To read more about the lessons we’ve learnt about funding market based approaches in water and sanitation, see our paper How to spend a penny.