How UAE firm helps vulnerable communities in Africa get access to clean water

Project Maji was launched after children were spotted drinking from puddles in Ghana

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When UAE resident Sunil Lalvani took a trip to Ghana in 2014, he was disturbed by the lack of access to clean water.

The supply was so inaccessible that he saw children drinking from a puddle of rain in the street.

“They were on their 40-minute walk each way to collect water. They said they couldn't believe their luck that they found the puddle,” he told The National.

“It had been raining the night before and the puddle was close to their village.

If donations dry up we can't just walk away from these people
Sunil Lalvani, founder of Project Maji

“I went to investigate why children had to drink from a puddle and it turned out that the village hand pump had broken down.”

Mr Lalvani was so affected by this that he set up Project Maji. The company is a social enterprise that deploys solar-pumping technology across sub-Saharan Africa to provide rural communities with access to sustainable clean water.

World Water Week

Eight years after spotting those desperate children, Mr Lalvani's company serves 800 communities in rural parts of Ghana and Kenya.

“We help 250,000 people each day get access to sustainable water,” he told The National in an interview to mark World Water Week, an annual UN event that highlights the challenges around global access to water.

“We're hoping to reach 1 million [people] by next year.”

While those numbers might sound impressive, they barely scratch the surface.

Around 785 million people globally do not have access to clean drinking water, according to the latest UN report.

Each year there are approximately 3.4 million deaths attributed to diseases primarily due to contaminated drinking water and poor sanitation, the World Health Organisation estimates.

Globally, it is estimated that women collectively spend approximately 97 billion hours each year collecting water.

“Populations are growing which means so is the number of people in need,” said Mr Lalvani.

How it works

Mr Lalvani's company operates using impact philanthropy, which focuses on financial sustainability to create positive social or environmental change.

It goes beyond traditional grant-making by leveraging investments to develop solutions. Contributors can make a small return on their investments, unlike other forms of philanthropy which rely solely on donations.

“We have to make sure that we're not solely reliant on donations to be able to serve the communities over the long term because if donations dry up we can't just walk away from these people,” Mr Lalvani said.

Another facet of the project is that the villagers pay for the water, but at a low price. “To give you an example, a jerry can of water in Kenya usually costs 30 shillings (Dh0.77), with our sustainable water model we can provide the same amount of water for a tenth of that,” he said.

Making an impact

Another UAE-based expert on sustainability said impact philanthropy has the potential to truly make a difference to vulnerable communities.

“Impact philanthropy, with its unique emphasis on results-driven solutions, has the potential to significantly alleviate water scarcity,” said Chandra Dake, chief executive of Dech Rechsand, a Dubai company specialising in sustainable solutions.

“This approach goes beyond just providing funds; it aims to make a measurable difference.

“Impact philanthropy can shine a spotlight on the pressing issue of water scarcity, raising awareness at global forums and advocating for policy changes at the highest levels.”

Updated: August 25, 2023, 12:32 PM