Francisco Noguera

Safe Water at the Base of the Pyramid: What Works? What Doesn?t? What?s Next?

IFC recently issued Safe Water for All, a thorough and illustrative report about the opportunities for the private sector in delivering clean water to the base of the pyramid. It sheds light on many of the topics covered in the review published here in NextBillion back in 2008, such as the challenges of pricing and distribution for Point of Use devices at the BoP and the many different approaches (in terms of business models, legal structures, technologies, partnerships, etc.) that can be seen in community scale models such as those of companies like EPGL, Naandi and WaterHealth International, three of many actors that have helped make this a fast-growing phenomenon in that country.

The report offers concrete recommendations to help drive these approaches to scale, many of which are concerned with the issue of offering flexible financing alternatives for entrepreneurs and for potential customers alike. However, there’s an issue that comes across with even greater frequency throughout the report, and it is that of design considerations for clean water solutions at the BoP. Though technologies are already out there capable of dealing with most of water quality issues, close attention must be given to cultural and behavioral patterns, which are most relevant when it comes to a resource like water.

By offering an overview of available alternatives for water treatment at the BoP (as well as useful country profiles that characterize the opportunities for water-related ventures in various regions), IFC’s report fills a gap that existed in this space’s literature. However, the issue is so acute that it merits similarly thorough pieces providing in-depth analysis of the different angles of the water issue in low income communities. (We’ll be publishing an updated piece on community scale approaches during the fall so stay tuned for that.) Besides, we should be swift and start discussing the role of enterprise in dealing with tomorrow’s water challenges.

Indeed, entrepreneurial approaches seem to be gaining traction in some areas, dealing primarily with today’s challenges of water quality and sanitation. A changing climate, degraded ecosystems and a growing population are the input variables. What are the foreseeable consequences in the availability and quality of water resources? Does enterprise have a role to play in low income settings? Yesterday’s too late to start this discussion.

So while you read their water report, I’ll get started on another piece by IFC concerned with mitigation and adaptation to the effects of climate change. Maybe it’ll shed some light on these questions.