Sujol

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Since hand pumps were installed to supply the population with drinking water, some 77 million people in Bangladesh have been exposed to contaminated groundwater, with 10 million drinking highly toxic water every day. Three water treatment plants using proven techniques incubated by EMF were built to remove the arsenic and salinity from the water. In 2016 the pilot project ended as the technique was tested successfully.

Sujol - a good water business 

Sujol is not merely the name of a project, it is a brand and business concept that aims to provide clean, safe and tasteful drinking water to the poor in Bangladesh. Sujol uses a business-wise approach, aiming to run its business and provide water without being subsidized in the near future. Entrepreneurs will invest in and operate small scale plants and sell water to the local communities, Sujol will support these micro entrepreneurs offering services like marketing, finance and business support.

Sujol is currently active in areas where shallow well water are salty and contaminated with Arsenic. Based on in-depth research, Sujol selected the Cap DI technology (produced by Unilever spin off Voltea) as the most promising and applicable technology to clean Arsenic contaminated water. This provides opportunities from a business point of view as well as a social point of view as well. 

Pilot launched

The pilot that will test the purification technology in the field in Bangladesh was officially launched by Allerd Stikker of EMF at an opening bell ceremony at Amsterdam's Stock Exchange on 15 December 2010. It followed the award that month of a substantial grant by the Netherlands Water Partnership to the consortium composed of the Dutch Ecological Management Foundation (EMF), the Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM), Voltea - a company of Unilver Ventures, the Proportion Foundation, Micro Water Facility and Akvo to start the ambitious project. Legal support is provided by Norton Rose LLP.

Arsenic contamination

Founded by Allerd Stikker and Iqbal Quadir of the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship and founder of the Grameen Phone Company, in 2009 the Clean Water Foundation launched an initiative designed to provide safe drinking water in areas of Bangladesh affected by serious arsenic contamination and salinity problems.

Field tests

After completion of the exploratory stage of analysis and feasibilities studies, in June 2010 EMF took over the project and started testing a technology developed by Voltea in Sassenheim that purifies groundwater contaminated with arsenic and turns it into safe drinking water while ridding it of its salty taste. In May 2012 the first CAP DI device is producing safe, sweet and clear water. In March 2013 the other two plants are up and running.

Proven results - expanding the business with larger plants

Cap DI technology is improving rapidly (in performance and cost price). Sujol tested the current technology successfully. A brief commercial pilot revealed poor are willing to pay for Sujol drinking water. Both pilots delivered clear evidence and parameters to be used for testing the Sujol business case on a larger scale (phase 2).

To prepare phase 2, Sujol will construct a Sujol drinking water plant in the Shatkira district that produces drinking water on a larger scale. Because we know the right parameters on volume and water quality (input and output water), setting up a plant at larger scale will be a manageable project without too much risk. Sujol has found a strong and reliable partner locally that can take up this activity.

Creating a market and involving stakeholders

Developing a fast track to the market in order to speed up the visibility of the Sujol brand Professor Iqbal Quadir - expert in Bottom of the Pyramid business models, co-founder of Sujol and advisor to the project - recommended to involve the garment industry. We plan to set up water kiosks owned and operated by micro entrepreneurs within or near the garment industry in Dhaka and surroundings, providing Sujol branded water to the factory workers during working hours. The workers can also purchase clean water at the kiosk for home-use. The benefits are multiple; providing workers with clean water will improve their health (and productivity), factories will comply with global CSR standards, the revenues of sold water partially go to the factories in rural areas (see further). From a social point of view, many garment workers’ families are living in Shatkira and in this way the garment industry and its workers will support their relatives as well indirectly. 

Upscaling

If the current pilot iin Bangladesh is successful, the project aims to set up small-scale water purification factories which will eventually be taken over by local entrepreneurs.

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