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Smart solution brings clean water to rural South Africa

17 June 2002 - Transkei - When Xholiswa Khula leaves her house in rural South Africa, she knows that within half an hour she'll back with clean drinking water for her family.

Before the new village standpipe was installed, she had to walk for two hours just to reach the river.

In 1997, the Eastern Cape Province village of Cisira had no running water. Its 400 inhabitants drank water from the river that they also used for washing their clothes, and shared with their animals. Villagers often suffered from water-borne diseases.

Pipes now bring clean, filtered river water to the village, thanks to an initiative called Amanz'abantu, or "Water for the people" in the local Xhosa language. The activity is run by the French water group Ondeo Services as part of its drive to bring safe water to people in very poor areas of the world.

For the past four years, Ondeo has worked with government agencies, non-governmental organizations and community representatives to bring drinking water to two of the most needy rural provinces of South Africa.

So far, the scheme has improved supply for over two million people, nearly half of whom previously had no connection to a water system at all.

Ondeo says this is the only known case of large-scale business commitment to providing sustainable water supply and sanitation to rural areas in developing countries.

In line with the values of the United Nations Global Compact with business, Ondeo's Water For All programme develops ways to provide sustainable water and sanitation services specifically for low-income communities through private-public partnerships.

"We work with the UN on a policy level - our parent company SUEZ funds the UN Social Observatory in Rome - but at the other end of the scale we do very operational work in the field, turning discussions into action," said Alain Mathys who directs Water For All.

At the community level, Ondeo's schemes aim to be financially viable and completely recover costs. People have to pay for their water services. South African villagers like Xholiswa Khula buy their water at the standpipe using a plastic smart-card which they recharge at the local shop at a rate of about ten South African rand, under a dollar, a month.

But, according to Ondeo, disadvantaged populations they have worked with now pay 10-40 times less for their water than when they bought it from individual vendors. Amanz'abantu is just one of the many examples of how Ondeo's Water For All scheme is bringing real help to people as part of the wide-reaching "Bridging the Water Divide©" campaign run by Ondeo's parent company, SUEZ.

Another project in Buenos Aires recently gave 800 000 people in poor neighbourhoods a connection to the drinking water system.

Nearly a third of the city's 10 million inhabitants live below the poverty line, and in 1993 virtually 40% of the population had no access to water or sanitation services.

Entire infrastructures had to be set up in shantytowns where many people had no official address. The group worked on the ground with associations who helped assess people's needs and organize the training of workers, and who now distribute water bills and monitor payment.

Ondeo has found that a high level of community involvement is vital to the success of these schemes, which usually employ 90% of their workers from the local area.

By participating, populations benefit not only from water and sanitation, but also from new employment opportunities.

Jobs such as digging trenches, installing pumps or distributing smart-cards can give people a sense of ownership, and enable them to maintain the water system once it is in place. And in many cases, inhabitants who participate in construction benefit from reduced connection costs.

SUEZ Senior Executive Vice President Gérard Payen is in charge of the Bridging the Water Divide campaign.

He said "Whether in South America, Africa or Asia, the successes we have achieved together with our public-sector partners prove that is possible to provide effective and affordable service to the urban poor in socially, economically and environmentally sustainable ways."

Ondeo provides water and wastewater services to some nine million people living below the poverty line in Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Brazil, Indonesia, the Philippines, Morocco and South Africa.

Ondeo is a fully-owned subsidiary of SUEZ, a provider of global solutions in energy, water and waste services for businesses, individuals and municipalities.

SUEZ is active in promoting sustainable development.

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