By Rachel Findlay and Trupthi Basavaraj of the Stone Family Foundation
Increasing clean water supplies and reducing deforestation: a twin challenge
When confronted by the sheer scale of the issues facing the water sector in developing countries, it is hard not to feel a little powerless. Globally, 780 million people - 11% of the world’s population - use unsafe drinking water or have no water source at all, and it has become increasingly apparent that more traditional models of water delivery are not always the most viable solution.
For example, it is estimated that 40% of the water pumps built in Africa are broken at any given point, and each pump can take up to a month to be repaired. Many people resort to using wood-burning stoves to boil water and render it safe for drinking, which is a strong driver for deforestation and also releases damaging CO2 emissions.
Harnessing the power of the private sector
For the Stone Family Foundation the answer is to identify and support water initiatives that harness the power of the private sector, as these have the potential to create and sustain impact. To this end, the Foundation established the £100,000 Stone Prize for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Water, administered by NPC, the charity think tank and consultancy dedicated to maximizing charity and funder effectiveness. After an 8-month process to create a shortlist from a pool of 179 applications across 39 countries, the Foundation recently announced its Prize winner, Dispensers for Safe Water (DSW) for its innovative Chlorine Dispenser System. The dispenser is filled with dilute chlorine and placed near a communal water source, allowing individuals to treat their water free of cost with the correct dose of chlorine.
This simple, low-cost solution has already reached approximately 424,000 people across 800 villages in Kenya. 30 months after dispenser installation, 55-60% of household drinking water samples in these communities tested positive for chlorine. At scale, the chlorine dispensers would cost less than US$0.50 per person per year, including both hardware costs and recurring costs of chlorine refills, dispenser management and maintenance.
Generating carbon credits
But what makes this initiative truly exciting is its financial model. Having found that people are unwilling to pay for chlorine, DSW has devised two innovative ways for generating revenue. One is to bundle the dispenser as part of wider package of agricultural goods sold by its partner, One Acre Fund.
The second is to access carbon credits generated through reducing the need to boil water by burning wood, which releases CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. DSW will establish a new, financially-sustainable social enterprise where carbon credits will be sold to entities for offsetting their carbon footprint. Revenue earned will be reinvested into maintaining and expanding the Chlorine Dispenser System programme.
Free dispensers achieve high usage rates
Providing chlorine free of charge to end users is critical to the Chlorine Dispenser System achieving high usage rates, and therefore impact. DSW first investigated carbon credit financing after learning that several major carbon credit regulatory organisations were applying similar monitoring methods to water treatment technologies as to fuel efficient stoves. This was based on the understanding that both reduce the use of non-renewable fuel use at the household level.
Establishing a carbon project required a major up-front investment. First, a decision needed to be made on how the project would be registered. A number of organisations certify carbon credits, and the type of certification determines how they can be sold and who the potential buyers might be. Registration can take from several months up to 2 years and requires significant expertise. For this reason, there are a number of organisations that specialise in providing advice on how to develop and register carbon credit projects. DSW developed a partnership to help them manage the required monitoring and market the credits once generated,, and to ensure that they adhered to the rules and procedures of the certifying body.
In DSW’s case, special monitoring techniques needed to be developed for community-level water treatment, since existing methods were targeted at the household level.
Today, DSW has all the required systems in place to earn certification for credits, as well as a partnership that will assist in marketing them, thus securing a major revenue stream for sustaining and expanding the Chlorine Dispenser System.