1001 fontaines specifically targets small rural communities, which generally fall outside of the remit of water access projects. These villages are likely to have to wait for years or decades in order to gain access to a piped water system. By virtue of its focus on the provision of clean drinking water and its “Water in School” Sponsorship Programme, 1001 fontaines helps to improve health, as well as reduce child mortality (currently about 12% in rural Cambodia) in the villages in which it operates. Our initiative also includes social marketing campaigns, as part of an integrated approach to foster changes in behaviours related to hygiene and safe water consumption and raise awareness of overall Water and Sanitation for Health (WASH) issues.
We are currently operating in Cambodia (since 2005) and Madagascar (since 2008), as well as India where pilot sites were launched in 2013. Our strategic goal is to provide safe drinking water to millions of villagers in many countries:
- at an affordable price – currently USD 0.01 or even less per litre
- with financial and operational sustainability – model based on
- for a very low one-time investment cost – currently between
USD 7 and 13 per beneficiary.
In the countries where we operate, we work with local organisations to implement the project. In Cambodia, the local NGO in charge of carrying out the project is Teuk Saat. The Director and founder, Chay Lo, is also the co-founder of the 1001 fontaines initiative. Today, Teuk Saat employs 35 local Cambodians in charge of implementing and supervising the project.
Our initiative relies on the utilisation of raw water available on site (from ponds, rivers, wells...), which is filtered and treated using a simple, low cost and efficient technology (UV disinfection powered by solar energy). The drinking water produced is distributed for USD 0.01 per litre in 20-litre bottles that are disinfected, filled and sealed, thus guaranteeing water quality to the point of consumption.
The whole solution is established as a micro-enterprise in each village, whereby one of the families in the village is trained to operate the water treatment unit and manage it as a social enterprise. This guarantees the sustainability of the service provided to the community and a steady income for the operator and his/her household. About 32% of our entrepreneurs are women and we have a specific project to increase the number of women entrepreneurs.
The key characteristics of our initiative are described below:
• Focusing on the most vital need of providing clean drinking water. Our project specifically addresses drinking water needs (2 litres a day per person) versus general water needs, which include drinking, cooking and cleaning (50 litres a day per person). We can, therefore, use small and flexible water treatment facilities instead of costly infrastructures.
• Ensuring the quality of the water produced and monitoring it regularly. The quality of our water meets the highest World Health Organisation (WHO) standards and water quality is controlled on a frequent basis by the local teams, which support the village entrepreneurs.
• Guaranteeing accessibility. The price of the water produced is set in agreement with the beneficiary communities and monitored regularly to establish the right balance between affordability for the beneficiaries and the necessity for the entrepreneur to cover operating costs and earn a living. Special attention is also given to the most vulnerable to water-borne diseases, namely children under ten. Through our Sponsorship Programme, we provide clean drinking water free of charge every day to the primary schools in the villages, where we have installed a water production centre.
• Ensuring sustainability through a self-financing business model. Once a production site is operational, water sales provide enough revenues to cover all field expenses. These comprise the operators' salaries, as well as operating and maintenance costs and shared services costs, such as quality control and the supply of spare parts provided by a local technical platform. This ensures that each production site is financially self-sufficient and that the overall solution is durable. We have recently launched a training academy in Cambodia to provide on-going training to entrepreneurs and enable us to scale up our deployment.
As of December 2012, 72 safe water production sites are operating in Cambodia and Madagascar, enabling over 130 operators to serve more than 130,000 beneficiaries every day (almost one third of them being children under ten through the “Water in School” Sponsorship Programme). Most of the entrepreneurs have been operating for several years and have reached their economic break-even point, whereby they are able to earn a steady income, cover their costs and contribute to defraying the costs of the local support platform. This business model creates the necessary economic incentives and support infrastructures to ensure that the supply of clean drinking water is maintained and that the number of beneficiaries is continually being increased in each village.
The 1001 fontaines initiative has been recognised for its innovation and social entrepreneurship on several occasions. In 2007 Chay Lo, the Cambodian co-founder of the project was designated by the Junior Chamber International as one of the "Ten Most Outstanding Young People" world-wide, and in November 2011 he received the title of "Asian social entrepreneur of the Year for Asia" from the Schwab Foundation.
Regarding the effectiveness of the overall initiative, an epidemiological study has been conducted in 2012 under the supervision of Professor Paul Hunter (of the University of East Anglia), an international authority on water and health. The study measured the impact of consuming water produced by 1001 fontaines social enterprises on diarrhoeal diseases. The final results will be published in the coming months, but this study already shows that:
- the 1001 fontaines water consumers are 40% less likely to suffer from diarrhoea than people consuming water from any other source ,
- children benefitting from 1001 fontaines water at school are 55 to 70% less likely to suffer from diarrhoea and correspondingly increase their level of school attendance compared to other children of the same age.
These results underline the significant impact that the 1001 fontaines projects have on the health and lives of rural populations.