“Liquid Asset” is one of the articles realised on the occasion of the Trafigura Foundation’s 10 anniversary and collected in the book Advancing Change: inspirational stories from a decade of giving. Philippe de Roux and Valérie Dumans, founders of the NGO Eau et Vie, explain how the provision of clean, piped running water has transformed lives in slum communities in Asia.
“We use it in our daily tasks – when we cook, when we take a bath, when we wash our clothes, when we do the dishes.” The words of Gretchen Gantuangco, a resident of Lower Tipolo, an area of slum housing in the Filipino city of Cebu. She is talking, of course, about water – available to so many of us through the turn of a tap but which, not so long ago, was something that Gantuangco and others in her neighbourhood could access only after a walk to a well.
If daily tasks were harder to accomplish then, consider the difficulty of responding to an emergency that demands immediate access to water. Jennifer Intrempas, a water controller in Lower Tipolo, explains: “Things are better now because when there’s an emergency with a fire, the water’s a big help to us – fires are a big problem here because houses in the slums are made of flimsy materials.”
It is thanks to the efforts of Eau et Vie (Water and Life), the social business set up in 2008 by Philippe de Roux and Valérie Dumans, that water is now readily available for Gretchen, Jennifer and their communities. Since its establishment, the tireless work of this organisation has provided water access for a combined total of 25,000 people in the Philippines and Bangladesh, while it hopes to offer similar services to Ivory Coast in the near future.
Households in slum areas in Bangladesh and the Philippines have been equipped with a tap connected to a meter. This means clean, piped running water for the residents, and employment for local plumbers. Significantly, it has also meant a 97 per cent rate of payment collection. “Residents pay their bills and respect the contract, which in turn boosts self-esteem,” says de Roux. “As a result, local authorities are then more willing to invest in crucial infrastructure such as road repairs and drainage systems.”
Based in Nantes, de Roux and Dumans both had prior experience of the Philippines when working from 1998 to 2001 as colleagues for Inter Aide, an NGO that organises development programmes for impoverished communities. It was during that time that d e Roux appreciated for the first time the huge financial burden that clean water provision places on slum communities.
“I used to stay with the families, to familiarise myself with the reality of life in the slums,” he recounts. “And that was where I learned the price of water. Many people don’t realise that it can eat up 20 to 25 per cent of a family’s already limited monthly budget. In the territories in which we operate, waste and sanitation can be a complicated and, frequently, corrupt business,” he adds. “Moreover, slums are never a priority for local authorities.”
Private, eco-friendly toilets for families in Bhashantek in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital
They became a priority for de Roux and Dumans a decade ago. By then, de Roux was back in France, running a plumbing business, which provided work for people seeking reintegration in the community. “At the beginning, we were a very small NGO, doing our paperwork on the weekends,” he recalls. They remain grateful for the support received from the Trafigura Foundation during this early period. They were among the very first to believe in our idea,” says de Roux.
The Foundation went on to help the Eau et Vie team overcome a significant obstacle when it expanded its initial operation, focused on Cebu and Manila in the Philippines, to incorporate the Bhashantek district in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka in 2012.
When Eau et Vie’s pumps were unable to provide sufficient water because of a lack of pressure, de Roux travelled to Switzerland to request funding for an overhead water tank that would fix the problem. Valérie Dumans explains: “We needed urgent financial support, and the Trafigura Foundation helped us out immediately.” Dumans describes another episode that demonstrates the support received from the Foundation. When the official opening of the newly created water network coincided with civil unrest in Dhaka, Executive Director Vincent Faber was the only invited guest from abroad who shrugged aside security concerns and travelled over for the celebration.
That support, says de Roux, has paid dividends in terms of impact. He offers an example from Eau et Vie’s Dhaka programme: “The women would queue for up to two hours to get water, which was stored in an unsanitary container. Moreover, they had no private space in which to shower – they would keep their clothes on, which meant they couldn’t wash themselves properly, and that resulted in conditions such as urinary infections. Now, even in a 10-square-metre house, they have one square metre for a small shower where they have the privacy to practise proper personal hygiene.”
Neighbourhood health centres, he says, have reported a substantive downturn in urinary infections. And, echoing Jennifer Intrempas’s story, he reiterates the safety gains.
“A combination of wooden houses and unsafe wiring results in a lot of fires in slum areas. Today, thanks to Eau et Vie,slum inhabitants can treat a fire. The social impact is huge.” In each community where it provides water, Eau et Vie operates a two-pronged approach: in addition to the social enterprise, which builds and maintains the water network and collects fees, there is a separate local association, which works with the community on a variety of matters, from hygiene awareness to fire prevention and waste management.
Daisy Millanes, a community coordinator with the Eau et Vie association in Lower Tipolo, explains: “Water and Life’s mission is to improve the lives of the people in the communities where the programme is active, and to empower them through dedicated services such as sanitation, hygiene, environment, fire prevention and firefighting.”
On this last point, in each district where it operates, Eau et Vie will train one volunteer firefighter for every 50 families and install one fire hydrant for every 80 families, as well as organising training sessions twice a year. In the long term, the 15,000 people living in the Bhashantek district will have access to hygienic and sustainable toilets, one WC for a dozen people (compared with 20 to 50 currently).
Access to water and electricity will be provided within each block to improve hygiene and safety conditions, and one in three toilets will be accessible to people with reduced mobility and children.
Filipino schoolchildren are taught about hygieneby Eau et Vie staff
It is not the only target for Philippe de Roux and Valérie Dumans. As Dumans says: “At the end of 2017, there were about 25,000 beneficiaries with safe water. For the end of 2020, our target is 100,000.”
Eau et Vie now employs 129 staff – including 101 local people – across its headquarters in Nantes and the countries in which it operates. Again, the Trafigura Foundation has played its part in the organisation’s development. Dumans says: “In 2017, after 10 years of activity, it was time for us to develop a new strategic plan to improve the sustainability of our organisation. The Trafigura Foundation played a pivotal role: they offered solid, timely advice and provided us with the means to hire a professional consultant to lay the groundwork for our future growth.”
The future, then, looks bright – and, happily, that should mean brighter lives, by virtue of clean, running water for thousands more people in impoverished communities in Asia and Africa.
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