In providing sustainable access to drinking water in Colon, Honduras, Pentair created a radical shift in the understanding of the value of clean, safe water, and a process that could be replicated elsewhere.
Only 30-50% of water projects in developing countries function over the long term. Appropriate technology has to be paired with capacity building and education and awareness.
Today, each one of the approximately 300,000 residents in the Colón region of Honduras has access to clean, safe and affordable drinking water. But getting there wasn’t easy. In working with people who have free access to water sources, providing access to clean water isn’t enough. It would take not only the water treatment system, but also a significant shift in awareness of safe water and hygiene practices to maintain it.
A Widespread Issue
Prior to Pentair's involvement in 2007, Colón was an example of a community facing safe water access problems plaguing many developing countries. The district’s residents got their drinking water from nearby sources with high counts of coliform bacteria, indicative of fecal contamination. Such contamination can lead to severe illness in the form of diarrhea, fever and extreme dehydration, and even death. But for the people of a poor region, free water was the only option.
The Integrated Solution
For years, various aid organizations have attempted to tackle safe water problems. Despite advances in technology and billions of dollars expended, it is estimated that only 30-50 percent of water projects are functioning at any given time. As a leader in water technology, Pentair wanted to understand the root causes of this failure rate, and test ways to improve on it.
Pentair questioned why communities that had been provided water treatment systems would go back to getting their water from contaminated sources. Taking a step back to explore the bigger picture unearthed a massive insight: the obstacles to safe water were as much about habits and education as they were about technology. Solving these challenges, then, required an integrated approach – one that paired safe water with sanitation services as well as hygiene education.
In 2007, Pentair founded Project Safewater in Colón, an effort to develop an improved approach – combining technology, business models, community development and scientific research – to providing sustainable access to safe water. Pentair partnered with the nonprofit organization Water Mission to install more than 200 water treatment systems and over 15,000 individual latrines in Colón. Designed for use in tough environments, the systems have the ability to produce clean water for $3-6 per person per year.
To ensure that the access to safe water is sustained over the long term, Project Safewater introduced a microenterprise business model in which the local community owns the water treatment systems and users pay a nominal fee for potable water. Community education programs were conducted to raise awareness of the importance of safe, clean drinking water, helping residents value it so that they would be motived to make the financial contributions required to sustain the system.
Three years after the project’s inception, Colón residents saw an 80 percent reduction in waterborne diseases, and visits to the local health clinics for diarrheal diseases have dropped by over 50 percent.
The Project Safewater results offer conclusive evidence that access to clean, safe water directly reduces waterborne illnesses. Data suggests that interventions to provide potable water access, when combined with community development efforts and sanitation, can play a significant role in the reduction of illness and death from waterborne diseases, which is the leading killer of children under 5 in the developing world.
What’s Next for Project Safewater
Through cross-sector partnerships, Pentair applies its tested process to repeat what has proven successful, while innovating new approaches that offer scalable potential in other projects. To date, Pentair has helped nearly 3 million people gain access to sustainable sources of safe water through Project Safewater in Latin America, Asia and Africa.
“The world’s safe drinking water crisis is solvable. What we’ve learned from Project Safewater-Colón can help address the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals.” - Randall J. Hogan, Chairman and CEO of Pentair