How Coca-Cola and its partners are bringing clean and safe water to millions in Africa.
Five-year-old Efia loves the colour of the water that’s recently started running from the new tap, although she struggles to define it.
“I can see my feet,” she shouts, wriggling her toes in the tub of water her mother has drawn for her evening bath. Her two-year-old sibling, Adjoa, stands in the tub clinging to the rim and joins in the game, laughing and kicking her feet in the crystal liquid. Bath time’s never been as much fun.
For many, clean, clear water is commonplace; for Efia and Adjoa it’s something to be astonished over. It’s a far cry from the khaki-coloured brine her mother has had to heft in buckets from the muddy river a mile or more away. Now she’s able to purchase clean, safe water from a nearby centre.
The new water centre started running only yesterday, providing a strong stream of water that’s clean and safe and which sparkles in the sunshine bathing the town in the outskirts of Accra that Efia and her family call home.
The ritual, now daily routine for Efia’s family, is being enacted by an increasing number of families across West Africa as the Safe Water for Africa (SWA) project gathers momentum. A partnership between The Coca-Cola Company, Diageo and WaterHealth International (WHI), and with co-funding from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the programme is committed to providing safe water access to at least two million people across West Africa. Twenty per cent more Ghanaians enjoy safe water since the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were launched in 2000, but there’s still much work to be done in connecting the remaining 18% without access to safe water.
“I applaud the work of this major private sector engagement,” says Ghana’s Minister of Water Resources, Works & Housing, Alban Bagbin, speaking at the 2011 Ghana Water Forum, where the programme was launched in the country. WaterHealth Centres (WHCs) are the pulses of the SWA programme. These are modular structures housing water purification equipment that treats local water through a combination of sedimentation, pre-filtration and ultraviolet technology. Combining this technical rigour to ensure water quality with the sustainability of WHC’s selling purified water at under market prices, has seen a strong increase in community uptake.
A powerful team is contributing to sustainable water solutions
The Coca-Cola Company and its partners have studied the problem of water for the people in this region and they are willing to do something about it. They also know that providing the water is just one part of a bigger and more complicated development puzzle.
Over the last 20 years, between 600,000 and 800,000 hand pumps have been installed in sub-Saharan Africa. However a staggering 30% (potentially 240,000) of these are known to fail prematurely, amounting not only to a lost investment of around $1.2–$1.5bn, but also a significant failure in the sustainable provision of clean, safe water to the affected communities. To help address this problem, The Coca-Cola Company’s water projects are designed with long-term sustainability in mind. In the case of SWA, communities help to determine the appropriate, affordable usage fees for the water purification service of each WHC. Over time, the increased adoption of the service will be able to cover the cost of the operation and maintenance of the facility, allowing it to become financially self-sufficient and ultimately 100% sustainable. “By implementing this innovative clean water access model, which incentivises proper maintenance and operation of the water centres, Coca-Cola and its partners are assuring the project’s sustainability and helping countries move toward their United Nations Millennium Development Goals,” commented Alfonso Libano, Chairman, Equatorial
Coca-Cola Bottling Company.
Replenishing the continent
Looked at from space, you can see how water-sparse Africa really is. A tropical band cuts across the middle of it, taking up about 25% of the land mass. The rest is savanna, bushland, scrub and desert. You quickly get the idea of a massive continent with an equally big thirst and you can understand how every drop of water is precious. The natural situation of water availability isn’t getting any better either. In West Africa, for instance, access to water today is worse than it was 20 years ago.
In Liberia, which has found peace, The Coca-Cola Company/WHI have moved in to begin the implementation of their clean water service, starting with the building of 30 WHCs – at least five will be up and running this year.
Liberian President Johnson Sirleaf recently noted that stakeholders are “coming together behind our common development goals; and Coca-Cola is clearly providing a strong example to other corporations – demonstrating how the private sector can partner with others to make a concrete difference in the day-to-day lives of Liberians by making safe drinking water available to 10,000 residents of New Georgia.”
The Coca-Cola Company’s goal is to develop community projects that are also sustainable by partnering with local bottling partners – collectively called the Coca-Cola system. Sustainability Director for the Eurasia Africa Group at The Coca-Cola Company, William Egbe, said it best, “Coca-Cola understands that for it to be successful over the long term, the communities in which it operates must be sustainable economically, environmentally and with strong local support systems.”
As a result, Coca-Cola is engaged with WHI in building healthy communities in Liberia by providing access to safe, clean drinking water to at least 300,000 Liberians.”
Across the region more and more people are enjoying the simple pleasure of having water on tap: for Efia clean bath water will now be part of her everyday life.