1001Fontaines: Keeping the Water Running with Market-Based Approaches

1001fontaines aims to improve the health of rural populations by enabling them to meet their drinking water needs sustainably by themselves. Their efforts are working! Studies show that 1001fontaines, working with local communities, has halved occurrences of diarrhea for children under 5 and dropped school absenteeism by 75%.

On 8 October 1001fontaines won the public vote for the Google Impact Challenge France 2015! The competition rewards 4 innovative projects using technologies to improve lives.

1001fontaines has been working with Blue Planet Network since 2013 to provide high quality water to rural communities in Cambodia, Madagascar, and India. Anaïk Pichon, Water Treatment Director, spoke with Alexandra McGee, Blue Planet Network Development and Member Services Associate, to share what is behind their success.

What is 1001fontaines? Where do you work, who are the communities you work with and what services do you provide?

1001fontaines have 98 project sites in Madagascar, Cambodia and India.

The 1001fontaines approach is specifically oriented towards small rural communities in Cambodia, Madagascar, and India. These communities generally cannot be served by commercial providers as their product prices are too high and it is too far to go to the cities where clean water is more easily provided.

The 1001fontaines approach aims at improving the health of rural populations by enabling them to meet their drinking water needs using a simple technology and small robust systems adapted to the local environment. This model is based on a social enterprise and market-based approach. First, small water purification stations are implemented. Then a local entrepreneur is trained to produce and distribute safe drinking water at an affordable price. The safe drinking water produced is sold at 1 cent per liter to the villagers (5 times cheaper than typical water sold in a shop) and delivered directly to the consumer’s home. The revenue generated covers the entrepreneur’s salary and maintenance costs and incents him/her to make sure the water keeps running.

How does 1001fontaines ensure clean water is delivered?

To provide safe drinking water, 1001fontaines focuses on purifying the water and ensuring the quality is maintained up until it is consumed.

We guarantee high quality water to each customer’s house by:

Ensured sustainability by creating micro-businesses. The station is entrusted to an operator who produces drinking water, packages it into containers, and sells it in the village. The profit the operator makes allows him to live and maintain his production tool.

1) Relying on a simple and efficient water treatment process (microfiltration and UltraViolet treatment) and ensuring that the purified water is transported and stored safely by sealing the bottles before delivering them to the consumer;

2) Controlling the water quality with monthly microbiological, chemical and taste & odor analyses on site and at the local laboratory set up in each country where we operate;

3) Providing maintenance support to each entrepreneur. Technicians from our local partner’s team are trained to follow a set of standards (from pre-treatment to bottling). They assist each entrepreneur in applying the same standards. We regularly conduct training sessions for technicians and entrepreneurs and continually adapt the procedures and standards to strengthen the entrepreneur’s ability to guarantee the quality of the water at all sites.

When did you join Blue Planet Network and how do you use our services?

The Blue Planet Network online platform is very useful for us as we can follow other Members’ water projects and see what other technologies and/or business models are being implemented across the world to address the issue of drinking water. Having our projects peer evaluated, as well as using the Blue Planet Network project tracking tool, helps us determine how we can adapt and improve our model according to what other partners are achieving and their results. We also use the platform to collect data from the field and increase the visibility of our projects among international funders. In the future, we hope to be able to use the monitoring and tracking tools more thoroughly and to engage our local teams in using the platform themselves.

Funding received through Blue Planet Network also has been instrumental in helping us move projects forward. Thanks to Blue Planet Network, we were able to implement a water treatment station in Cambodia which enables close to 2,000 people to drink safe water every day.

What has been the impact of your work in the communities you serve?

The project targets rural communes with approximately 10,000 inhabitants, where the main economic activity is growing rice and the average income is low. In these communes, we expect to reach an average of 20% of the population with our project, i.e an average of 2,000 people in each village. In the best performing sites, some entrepreneurs reach 40% of the population. Through social awareness campaigns, we hope to increase the coverage of the project to at least 25% across all sites by 2020.

In Cambodia, purified water is packaged in 20-liter containers, giving 2 to 3 days worth of water consumption to an average family. Each container is disinfected, filled and sealed to ensure maximum protection for the water up to the place of consumption. In Madagascar, the process is the same but the water is packaged in 22-liter containers, better suited for local habits.

As of June 2015, 10 years after our Cambodian launch, 135 stations are operating in Cambodia, managed by 135 local entrepreneurs and 150 assistants. Thanks to the work of these nearly 300 entrepreneurs and assistants, 250,000 people drink safe water every day, including 50,000 children.

Two studies were carried out in 2012 on the impact of the 1001fontaines water on health. One study showed that the occurrence of diarrhea for children under 5 years old was 30% to 60% higher with families using untreated surface or water from wells, compared to those drinking 1001fontaines water. The second study showed a 75% drop in school absenteeism in schools where drinking water was delivered by 1001fontaines every day, compared to schools that did not benefit from the service.

So far, 1001fontaines has empowered 96 entrepreneurs to produce clean drinking water locally for 180,000 people in 3 countries.

1. PLOS ONE, “Impact of the Provision of Safe Drinking Water on School Absence Rates in Cambodia: a quasi-experimental study”, Paul R Hunter, Helen Risebro, Marie Yen, Hélène Lefebvre, Chay Lo, Philippe Hartemann, Christophe Longuet, François Jaquenoud
2. BMC Public Health, “Water source and diarrhoeal disease risk in children under 5 years old in Cambodia: a prospective diary based study”, Paul R Hunter, Helen Risebro, Marie Yen, Hélène Lefebvre, Chay Lo, François Jaquenoud and others.

What are the greatest challenges for the continued success for your work?

1001fontaines trains local villagers to maintain their water systems, providing good jobs for the community.

The key to success of 1001fontaines’ approach lies in the capacity of local teams to take ownership of their project. 1001fontaines needs to continuously increase the capacity of the local teams to improve interventions on sites and ongoing results. Regarding water treatment, one of our challenges is to adapt the treatment process to new forms of contamination which have arisen since the launch of our work in Cambodia 10 years ago. Higher levels of pesticides in raw water are occurring, due to the rapid development of Cambodia and chemical contamination of certain water sources in areas where industry is growing.

To address these issues, we need to adapt our treatment process regularly by conducting research on new treatment processes and benchmarking what other projects are doing to meet these challenges. This is a specific way in which being a member of Blue Planet Network is very helpful.

We also are continuing to train our local technicians on water quality, treatment and maintenance to ensure they can address any issues in a timely manner and assist each entrepreneur in the best possible way.

What has been your most memorable experience of working with 1001fontaines?

I had the opportunity of going to Madagascar a few weeks ago to work with the technical teams involved in setting up 1001fontaines stations in the North East region. Having spent 3 years in Cambodia working on the 1001fontaines project, it was a very enriching experience to see how the project had been developed in another country. I was very impressed to see how motivated the local team was, and how they had adapted the project to a new context (manual pumping on certain sites, other types of technical issues addressed like the high presence of iron in groundwater).

There was real buy-in by the local team. If we can continue to adapt our model to other countries, this could open new areas of development and the possibility to bring safe water to even more people. - Anaïk Pichon, Water Treatment Director, 1001fontaines

Seeing how involved they were was a sign for me that 1001fontaines already had succeeded in a way, and that there was real buy in by the local team. If we can continue to adapt our model to other countries, this could open new areas of development and the possibility to bring safe water to even more people. This is what makes my job memorable every day!

Video Interview: Jean-François Rambicur of 1001fontaines