Fragile Oasis

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Clean Water for 4,000,000 People in Kenya

by Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen
Guest Bloggernaut

As Ron Garan’s images show us with dramatic poignancy, water is our planet’s mother’s milk, vital to humans and indeed all life on Earth. With that understanding, my company has worked for many years with governments and other partners to ensure that people have access to safe water. This year we took our mission one step further by linking safe drinking water with reduction in the emission of carbon dioxide - a landmark commercial coupling of these two critical goals.

We’re calling the ten-year project LifeStraw® Carbon for Water. The project kicked off in April in the Western Province of Kenya with the distribution of nearly 880,000 of our LifeStraw® Family water filters, enough for more than 4 million people - or 91 percent of the population. Each filter will purify at least 18,000 liters of water and last for at least three years.

The carbon connection is this: prior to receiving the filters, many Kenyans boiled water to purify it for consumption, often using wood as fuel. Having the filter means that a family collects and burns less wood; this in turn means that less carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere.

The skeptical reader might ask “what’s in it for you?” As the donor of the filters, delivered free of charge, my company earns re-sellable carbon credits for the unreleased carbon dioxide. But before we make any money, data showing progress toward carbon emission reductions must be validated by an independent third party auditor. This model, along with the gratification of bringing cleaner water to Kenyans, makes for a solid and socially beneficial business proposition.

Space enthusiasts like me will love that our data was collected via satellite, using GPS-enabled smartphone technology that catalogued household data and real-time imagery developed by Manna Energy Ltd., a social enterprise honored as one of ten transformational innovators by NASA’s LAUNCH:Water forum. Manna Energy created the smartphone application for collecting this GPS-indexed “census” data, which is itself quite valuable. We’re providing the data free of charge to the Kenyan government, which can then use it to more accurately plan public health and development projects that best meet Western Kenyans’ needs.

This is one of the largest water projects ever implemented without public funding; but more significant than its size is the potential for long-term sustainability and health impacts for Kenyans. Success thus far has not been ours alone, but the result of a robust collaboration among partners including Manna Energy, the Kenyan government, and the people of Western Province.

The campaign has been a game changer for our company and a life-saver for Western Kenyans. It is also the first of what we hope will be a new wave of projects to help reduce emissions of greenhouse gases harmful to the life-giving atmosphere that Ron Garan has had the privilege to traverse and the skill to capture so beautifully in words and pictures.

Water for Kenyans
Photo by Georgina Goodwin / Vestergaard Frandsen