Danone (BN) Tries Doing Well By Doing Good With Low Cost Cambodia Water Project

on October 28 2013 2:07 PM
Cambodia
A Cambodian boy drinks from flooded waters. REUTERS/Samrang Pring

French food-product giant Danone SA (EPA:BN) is now selling water to 100,000 Cambodians at a low cost, joining a trend of multinational conglomerates like the Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO) that are trying to make a difference in the more impoverished parts of the world.

The company sells one liter of clean water for less than one euro cent ($0.0138) in Cambodia, through “1001 Fontaines pour Demain,” a French NGO whose name translates to “1,001 Fountains for Tomorrow.” The project was founded by Chay Lo, a Cambodian engineer, Francois Jaquenoud, a former partner of the consulting firm Accenture, and humanitarian Virginie Legrand, and brings  fresh water to Madagascar and India in addition to Cambodia, Bloomberg reported on Sunday.

Cambodia is currently one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia.

More than half of the world's 7 billion citizens live on less than $2 a day, 2.5 billion lack adequate sanitation, a quarter have no electricity and 1.1 billion live without access to safe water.

Danone, whose water division is the second largest by volume after Nestle SA, brings valuable experience in addition to funding to 1001 Fontaines’ mission to provide fresh water for the people of Cambodia, where too many drink straight from ponds, exposing themselves to diarrhea and malaria among other diseases.

“[Danone] taught us how to sell water,” said Jaquenoud last month at the Convergences World Forum, a European platform that aims to build convergences between the public and the private sectors in alleviating international poverty.

Worldwide, drinking unsafe water kills 1.6 million children aged four and younger each year, 1001 Fontaines said.

Whereas Danone’s lowest price for water is four euro cents per liter, the company is producing water for Cambodia at a much lower rate in order to target those “at the very bottom of the pyramid,” Jacquenoud added. In addition to the 100,000 paying customers, 1001 Fontaines also provides water free of cost to 58,000 schoolchildren, Bloomberg reported.

The foundation hopes to triple its 80 production sites in the Southeast Asian nation by 2016, and serve up to 10 percent of the rural populace. Currently, only 30 percent of the Cambodian rural population have access to safe drinking water, United Nations data showed.

Danone is not alone in wanting to make a change in the world’s last frontiers. Coca-Cola teamed with Deka Research and Development Corp in August to roll out a water purification system as part of the Ekocenter kiosk pilot project in South Africa, which makes dirty water safe to drink. The 20-foot kiosk provides 800 liters of clean water daily at a relatively low hourly power cost, the company said. 

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