Getting Access to Clean Water for Free in Kenya

Using carbon credits, Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen and his company Vestergaard Frandsen plan to provide clean water to millions of the world's poorest people for free. Close to 1 million water filters will be delivered to Kenya as part of the Carbon for Water campaign. I recently caught up with Vestergaard Frandsen to discuss his innovative project.

This will be the first global health project financed through the carbon market. The hope is that it will provide safe drinking water for 10 years to millions in Kenya, while reducing carbon emissions by a million tons annually. How does carbon-for-water work?

VIDEO: Kenyans receiving clean water through carbon credits.
LifeStraw: Clean Water Through Carbon Credits

We [are] going door-to-door over five weeks installing the LifeStraw in every home in the Western Province: nearly 1 million households. Training people to use it, and then through a very rigorous monitoring system, we're able to document how much water is consumed, how much less firewood is burned [a practice commonly used to clean the water], and thereby know how many reductions are generated. We can then sell [emission reductions] on the international market as carbon credit, and finance this entire program.

How is this going to impact the lives of people in Kenya?

Access to safe drinking water leads to better health. Diarrhea is the leading cause of death for children under 5. And if you look across all age groups, respiratory infection is actually the leading cause of death in Africa. A lot of it is caused by indoor air pollution that is linked to water purification and cooking. Finally, girls are often fetching water or fetching firewood rather than going to school, so you have the added benefit of improved education access.

[The program started] April 26, to be fully installed May 31. We have donated over 600,000 water filters, and are well on our way to reaching our goal of 900,000 [We're talking about] 4.5 million people spread over four counties in the Western Province, so it's a huge geographical reach to cover. You can follow us live on Google Earth, as we'll be doing 40,000 uploads per day. You will be able to see the person from each household, the person who we train with her water filter, the time of the training, and the GPS coordinates.

And that's all going to be on Google Earth?

We're building this platform for very rigorous monitoring, which has never been done in public health before, and I think that's why we are getting a lot of interest from some of the donor countries. Because you have a very unique model here for pay-for-performance that the entire development world could learn a lot from. It can sort of point the way for the future of how development aid should be handled.

Who's paying to get the water filters installed?

So the upfront investment all comes from the company Vestergaard. That means pretty much everything from the investment in the water filters, to the 4,000 people who will go door-to-door to install. Every six months, independent validators will come in and monitor and verify the data sets that we have on households, regarding how much water they've consumed and how much less firewood is being burned. Once that data set is independently verified by an auditor, a certificate is issued which we use to sell carbon credits. Those carbon credits will then be sold on the voluntary market to other companies in a business-to-business deal. We're expecting to be repaid over the course of the next couple of years.

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