CHRIS MANN: Would you buy a particular brand of water if you knew your purchase was going to help a good cause? Today is World Water Day, and the start of a new intiative to turn some of the profits of the massive bottled water industry to helping the world’s poorest communities. To find out more, I spoke earlier with Lydia Zigomo, who heads up the charity WaterAid’s East Africa programme work, and Karen Lynch CEO of Belu Water, the fast-growing ethical water brand. (TAPE)
KAREN LYNCH: Well, in the UK, we absolutely take for granted that we’ve got easy access to clean safe drinking water, at home, on the go, on the move. And we actually as a nation now spend £4 billion on bottled water in the UK. So the idea behind Belu is to use that to help those who don’t have that, that basic human right of access to safe water. So Belu Water gives 100% of the profits made to WaterAid.
CHRIS MANN: And how does that work for you?
KAREN LYNCH: For us as an organisation?
CHRIS MANN: Yes.
KAREN LYNCH: Well we’ve got the best job in the world. It’s tough, so we’re competing with lots of big companies, competing for shelf space in supermarkets, and to be in the fridges of restaurants and bars. But it’s very rewarding, because to put into context that huge figure of £4 billion, we only need to make £15 profit to transform somebody’s life, to enable them to go back to school, or to set up a business, because we’ve built the infrastructure of clean drinking water that Lydia and her team do.
CHRIS MANN: As hard as it might be to realise, some people are buying things these days on price alone. How do you compete that way?
KAREN LYNCH: It’s been, again, very very tough for us. So yes, the research says that the majority of consumers would prefer to buy an ethical product, if price and quality are broadly equal. Now Belu Water is fantastically pure, gorgeous mineral water. And we’ve worked very hard to make sure that we can take it to market, so that your listeners will be able to buy it without having to pay a premium. Because at that point, we can get the maximum number of people supporting us, and therefore supporting the work of WaterAid.
CHRIS MANN: You’re the first British non-profit drinks company that I know of. Do you think there’s an opportunity for this in other sectors as well?
KAREN LYNCH: Absolutely. Another part of what we want to do through Belu is to set an example that we can be successful as a business. The only difference is, at the end of the day, the profits go to good causes, and to inspire others to do the same.
CHRIS MANN: Ironically of course, here in East Anglia, like many other parts of Britain at the moment, there’s a hosepipe ban coming in, and there’s a drought. But it’s not the same kind of drought as Africa, is it, really?
KAREN LYNCH: No, but it’s a real .. as a news topic and a reality of an environmental issue that we’re facing .. it’s good to remind us not to take for granted how easy our lives are in comparison to the people that Lydia and her team are trying to help.
CHRIS MANN: Well let me bring in Lydia Zigomo, who heads up WaterAid’s East Africa programme work. Hello to you Lydia.
LYDIA ZIGOMO: Hello.
CHRIS MANN: Tell us more about World Water Day please.
LYDIA ZIGOMO: Well World Water Day is really about highlighting the crisis of 783 million people worldwide, who still do not have access to safe drinking water. And also the fact, related to that, which is a further two and a half billion people have no access to a safe toilet to go to. And the problems of toilets and water are inter-related. Because if you don’t have a place to safely go to the toilet, that human waste that you’re generating , because you eat, live and breath, can again contaminate the ground water that you are then taking to drink. So we need to understand the nature of the crisis that the world faces, I think.
CHRIS MANN: I have myself reported from Afghanistan and Pakistan in the past, where people were dying on a very large scale. But it was hard to realise, because they were dying of dehydration, and children that you thought were maybe eight years of age were four years of age.
LYDIA ZIGOMO: Yes. The lack of clean safe drinking water can be enormous. The health impacts on developing country economies is amazing. We were looking at statistics that were showing a country like Kenya, in East Africa, it’s losing up to somewhere like $235 million a year, if you’re looking at the related costs for health care, and death linked to inaccess to safe drinking water. So the burden that this creates, this crisis, on the health care system of these countries is enormous.
CHRIS MANN: Lydia, explain to us please in a practical sense what WaterAid does to help alleviate the water, the sanitation and the hygiene crises that you’ve just described.
LYDIA ZIGOMO: What WaterAid does is it comes alongside local communities, to work out the solutions that work for those communities. Because we also have to make sure they are practical, they are sustainable, they are affordable. So in working with them, we’re able to decide where the needs are. One of the needs is normally water. And water in terms of having the water accessible at a reasonable distance to households, so that women and girls don’t have to go far to go and get the water. It is about then digging in the ground to access the water in the ground, either digging a well, or even in some cases in many countries it may require drilling a borehole, because the water is at a lower level in the ground. So you need to go deeper to access it. It’s about working with the communities, and the communities come alongside and they dig the tunnels to lay the pipes that then take that water from that well or borehole nearer to where they live, in some cases because where water is found sometimes is not where the community lives. So you need to now deliver the water nearer to where they live. And the communities come alongside and help to do that. And then putting in place tap stands, so that they can draw the water from the tap stand. It’s also about working with the communities to build the skills, and how to build and construct toilets, safe toilets that they can use. And these toilets need to be also located in a way that does not contaminate the ground water. And then doing hygiene education in schools and communities, so people understand how, once they have taken that water from the well, how they store it in their houses, so that it doesn’t become contaminated before they use that water. And also ensuring that they know how things like washing your hands with soap after going to the toilet, or cleaning the baby before you prepare food, that these kinds of hygienic behaviours are important to prevent disease spreading in the community.
CHRIS MANN: Lydia and Karen, thank you so much for joining me today on World Water Day.