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Infiltrating the market with clean water

iDE’s social enterprise, Hydrologic, won the 2018 Unilever Global Development Award!


Imagine living in a rural village in Cambodia, miles away from the nearest road. From where do you obtain safe water to drink? You send your daughters to collect water from the local lake, pond, well, or rainwater tank, or you buy it from a local vendor who delivers it by pipe, truck, or wagon. These sources are often contaminated due to poor sanitation, unsafe storage, and fouling by animals. So you collect wood or charcoal and boil the water, spending up to 22 hours a week on this task, time that you could have better spent tending your crops, which provide for you and your family. You sometimes wonder if the time is worth it, then remember how many people got sick and even died before everyone started boiling the water. Still, there has to be another way.

You can make a direct impact by purchasing carbon credits

You can protect our climate AND help people in Cambodia access clean drinking water at the same time by purchasing carbon credits from iDE’s water filter social enterprise Hydrologic. As a Gold Standard Climate+ Project you can offset 3 weeks of your CO2 emissions for $12.

Yes! I have $12. Take me to the marketplace for carbon credits.

The toll of unsafe water

In Cambodia, untreated water and poor sanitation cause an estimated 10 million cases of diarrhea and 10,000 deaths each year, mostly in rural areas among children under the age of five. Diarrhea and other waterborne diseases impose a heavy economic burden due to healthcare expenses, lost labor productivity, and missed school days for children.

iDE designed the Super Tunsai ceramic water filter to solve this problem. It is affordable, safe, effective, and beautiful.

The ceramic filters have been shown through laboratory testing to remove at least 99.99 percent of bacteria from water. The core of the water filter is a porous ceramic pot, rather like a large flower-pot. This is impregnated with silver nitrate. When the pot is filled with untreated water, the water can pass through the microscopic pores but bacteria and other particles are physically blocked. The silver kills any bacteria that manage to penetrate the ceramic. The pot fits snugly into the top of a specially designed plastic container with a lid to protect against recontamination. Each filter can produce up to 30 liters of clean water per day.

The Clean Water Business

Hydrologic is filling a space in the market, providing an affordable solution to some of Cambodia’s poorest households. The social enterprise is not only making a profit but is also meeting a vital social need.

iDE PC Hydrologic Clean Water

(Photo by David Graham/iDE)

The water crisis needs more business thinking

Fourteen years ago, we embarked on an effort to deliver clean drinking water to rural Cambodians. We talked to rural villagers to understand their needs and desires, leading to the design of the Super Tunsai. We believe starting with people and conducting local market analysis are the first steps to developing the best path to reach large numbers of people. Bringing clean water to poor households in Cambodia required more than just a great product, but also a new venture, as no business existed that could make and deliver this product.

What started as a grant-funded program evolved into Hydrologic, a six-year-old social enterprise that today operates as a profitable, financially independent business subsidiary of iDE. Every great product needs a viable business model to succeed. Since inception, iDE and Hydrologic have sold more than 450,000 ceramic water filters, benefitting over 2 million Cambodians.

Impact on women and children

Having safe water in rural Cambodian households improves the situation of women and children. Rural women and girls are responsible for fetching and boiling water and gathering wood for fuel. When boiling water, they are exposed to harmful smoke and, when gathering wood in isolated areas, they face increased risk of snake bite, robbery, and sexual violence.

Hydrologic water filters eliminate the need for this unnecessary work, as well as lowering the risk of waterborne disease—which is highest in children under the age of five. As the traditional managers of day-to-day family expenses, women also benefit directly from reduced expenditures on medical treatment, charcoal, and wood.

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