Ivory Consult Spearheads Clean and Safe Water

Published on 16th September 2008
An Office Purifier and Dispenser
Many people are in the field trying to come up with solutions towards safe water for consumption.Stephen Mutoro, CEO, Kenya Alliance of  Residents Association (KARA) caught up with Clive Wafukho, CEO Ivory Consult, and compiled the following.

Stephen: What is Ivory Consult (IC), why IC and what is Water Pro up to?

Clive: IC is a Kenyan private enterprise, founded and positioned to build on Africa’s inherent potential to regain Africa’s lost glory, and confidence through a socially responsible business model.  

We aim to create a better world by providing high quality products packaged in affordable quantities to those on the bottom of the economic pyramid.  We have taken seriously the call to put Africa on the map as a world leader of what it means to live a quality life, and that is why we provide choice, and not aid.  

At the heart of our motivation is the reality that Africa is at the centre of change in the world.  Africa will be the change agent affecting the rest of the world in the next several centuries.  Africa will lead the world in what it means to live a quality life that is balanced with environmental care – in other words, joyful, sustainable living.

WaterPRO is our own Kenyan registered Trade Mark that provides choices in water purification technologies and in water access schemes.  These are available to rural and urban residents alike, to communities, to public institutions such as schools and hospitals, and to industries. All our technologies are being manufactured under our own brand name both in USA and Europe.  

We have developed a variety of unique packages and payment schemes, enabling anyone who wisely chooses to have access to safe water for themselves and their families to do so.
Why should drinking water be treated? How best? How can this position be verified?
The water we drink should be treated to remove pollutants that may be harmful. The contaminants vary depending on the source of water. In general, however, they are classified as being physical, chemical or microbiological. 
The best solution for treatment is an integrated solution. This would take care of all the three categories of pollutants. It is important to note that the quality of water also varies depending on the season. The most affected are the surface sources. The treatment here may include filtration, carbon, reverse osmosis, and ultra violet.

The quality of water can be verified in a water testing laboratory. However, the treatment systems, like the ones at Ivory Consult monitor the quality of water in real time as well. If any part of the treatment system fails or is due for replacement an alarm goes off.

What is the cost of failing to treat municipal, industrial and domestic water?

There is tremendous cost to a society in failing to treat water.  Access to safe water is the prerequisite to a productive society that is busy creating meaningful wealth.  Failing to treat water, therefore, creates the opposite effect: 1. lack of productivity and 2. Citizens becoming a burden to society rather than contributing to its growth.  

There are indirect costs in terms of productive time lost (in homes, farms, industries, schools) due to immediate illness incapacitating people to work and attend school, and the direct costs of medical bills.

The most recent cholera outbreak in Bungoma West District for example, is costing the Kenyan economy hundreds of millions of shillings.  The social cost is even bigger and cannot ultimately be measured in terms of shillings as it involves the death of loved ones.  

A Treatment Unit
Can effective water quality treatment be verified only on the basis of absence and/or presence of disease? Explain.

No, no, no.Immediate effects of unsafe water are normally manifested in water borne diseases such as diarrhea, typhoid, and cholera. The long term effects on health, whose cause are typically chemical in nature, include a variety of cancers and deformations.  For example, cancer of the bladder and cancer of the colon have been shown to be the result of long term in-take of chlorine.  Deformations of teeth (mottling, dropping) and of bones are the results of the intake of high levels of fluoride over a long period of time.

Hard water would also cause corrosion of distribution water pipes, blow up water heater geysers in a home, instant heaters in a shower, and boilers. This may indirectly increase energy consumption at either household or industrial level.  
Many companies have come up with similar initiatives. How is IC water treatment different?

IC does not merely sell equipment; we sell solutions.  Our solutions are custom designed.  Our solutions are based on a careful analysis of the water quality and the volume of safe water required.  We stand behind our designs and solutions with warranties and servicing.  

As Kenyans, we are here to stay to ensure that the 1974 National Water Master Plan Initiative is finally achieved.  The primary aim of the Initiative was to ensure availability of potable water within reasonable distance to all households by 2000.  The initiative bore the slogan, “Water for all by the year 2000”.

We provide potable and wastewater treatment solutions as well as consultancy services to clients who need further clarification and advice on the same.  It is our in-house expertise and our strong capacity for consultancy that sets us above the rest. Thus, IC is different because we are a homegrown Kenyan company with Kenyan branding, we custom design, we are here to stay, and we provide consultancy alongside our technical expertise. 

How are such companies exploiting the ignorance and lack of information on the part of consumers?

Most consumers are unaware of the various types of contaminants that exist in water naturally.  These can be broadly classified in three categories: physical contaminants, microbiological contaminants, and chemical contaminants. This is why a consumer can easily assume that boiling makes their water safe.  But boiling, if boiled long enough, does not remove chemical or physical impurities.  

That is why a consumer can easily assume that filtering makes their water safe – but filtering merely removes physical contaminants and some microbiological contaminants.  And if filters are not cleaned or replaced regularly, filtering will in fact increase microbiological contamination!

That is why a consumer can easily assume that chlorine or UV treatment will make their water safe.  But these methods only deal with microbiological contaminants – and then only in part.  Cysts (such as giardia and cryptosporidium) are not inactivated by chlorine.  And UV cannot inactivate microbes effectively if there are physical impurities in the water and /or if there is a detectable level of chlorine in the water.

Consumers need to know that there are different water treatment technologies to treat the various physical, microbiological and chemical contaminants in the water.  That way they will not be exploited by a company that may purport a single technology to be a full solution to water treatment.  

For a consumer to be sure that he/she is considering the appropriate water treatment technologies to purify his/her water, he/she should have his/her water tested.  We can do that in our state-of-the art laboratory at IC.   In the absence of testing, it is important for a consumer to know and internalize that rarely is one water treatment technology sufficient to purify water.  

That is why at IC we have packaged a variety of technologies into our solutions so that all three categories of contaminants are eliminated and reduced to acceptable WHO levels within one system.  These technologies include sediment filters, carbon filters, reverse osmosis, and ultra violet light.  We have combined and miniaturized these technologies in a variety of combinations and sizes to fit underneath counter tops, on top of counter tops and in rural homes – so that the same treatment used in a water bottling company is available to you in your home!  And that is why the water purified with IC technology tastes so great, so natural!

The cost of water treatment solutions as well as bottled water is relatively high. Are you any different on this? If yes, how?
Offices, homes, hotels, and fitness gyms and others recover their cost of purchasing a system(s) within 6 months to a year.  Most consumers do not realize how much they spend every week on obtaining drinking water.  Depending on the number of users, Homes spend an average of Kshs. 2000 per month and offices spend anything from Kshs 5000 to Kshs. 35,000 per month to provide drinking water.  This does not take into account the cost of inconvenience.  Our systems range from Kshs 4,600 to Kshs 25,000 for homes and Kshs 31,000 to 62,000 for offices. 
Water treatment solutions appear to only target the elite. What is IC’s option for the poor?

Poverty is a state of mind, not a state of economic resources.  This is why we are aggressively educating all players in society about water quality – because water quality (and thus, health) is a right for ALL people, not just the so-called “elite”.  

Unfortunately, the perception that water quality is only for the elite is very strong.  This is WRONG.  Yet sadly, it is prevalent among the government, donors, NGOs and even Water Companies alike.

This perception may partly be due to the fact that half of the Kenyan population falls outside of the Water Services Regulatory Board and the Water Services boards.  As per the 2002 Water Reforms, half of the Kenyan population is officially on their own to access water; they are officially “unregulated” and get their water from “alternative providers”.  While they still fall under the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, the only government mechanism available to them for financing any water scheme is the Water Services Trust Fund.  Even the rural Water Companies do not play a role.  Therefore, coming up with structures for accountability and maintenance and treatment of the water and the scheme is up to the populations themselves.  In other words, even the Water Reforms have no solution for the rural and informal urban peoples to access water, leave alone SAFE water!

We have therefore started an education campaign among those that are involved in water provision to not only be involved in water provision, but in SAFE water provision.  We are targeting embassies, UN bodies, NGOs, faith-based development organizations, company foundations, and community groups – none of them incorporate water treatment when planning for water access schemes.  While 30 years ago this may have been a relevant strategy given our surface water sources were still relatively clean and safe, in today’s polluted water sources the provision of water without treatment is equivalent to poisoning people.  

Our message to them is that in planning for the implementation of water schemes, it is critical that water treatment is incorporated in the initial design, budget, and capacity building plans of any water scheme.  Water access is not good enough; it must be access to safe water if we are to claim to have made real impact on livelihoods and health.  

It is shocking to read how many donors (ranging from foreign donors to company foundations) make claims of having reduced water-borne diseases through a water scheme, but have never tested nor purified that water!

Let us not be quick to congratulate ourselves.  If you are not willing to drink polluted, unsafe water, why would you build a water scheme for people whom you view as “poor” and feel good about it?  Yet all you have done is providing polluted, unsafe water because you think that is good enough for them, as if to say “it is better than nothing.”  

In addition, IC plays a role in the unregulated water sector by providing loans to community groups that have formed themselves into multi-purpose Cooperative Societies to design, construct, treat and maintain their own water schemes.    We provide the technical, legal and management engineering and consultancy in these water schemes.  We are currently doing this in Laikipia East District and Kibwezi District and we are expanding this portfolio.  

Various institutions have local and international standardization marks on drinking water quality, what is the authenticity of such certification against dawning practical reality for the consumers?

What the standardization marks mean for the consumer is that the quality of water in all the bottles treated at any one given plant is of the same standard of quality. There are two ways of ensuring quality; one is through installation of treatment equipment that monitors quality in real time or through the use of a quality assurance laboratory on site. I wonder how many of our water bottling plants have quality control labs that they use to test every batch of production! 

Biological, chemical and other contaminants are a sure threat to water quality, what should the drinking water consumer look for in choosing a domestic water treatment solution? 

The consumer needs to know the source of their water to start with. If a consumer is on municipal supply like the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company, it is important to understand that the water is already treated with chlorine. The integrity of the distribution system is in doubt and that is why the company overdoses chlorine for residual effect! To remove the excess chlorine one would need either a Point-of-Use or Point-of-Entry Reverse Osmosis system together with carbon and filtration.

In such case, there may be no need for UV since the microbiological pollutants such as bacteria have already been taken care of. Unless there is evidence of viruses and cysts such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium that are resistant to chlorine. The consumer needs to understand, for example, how UV works and the different types available in the market. Some of the systems are not suited to our water quality. 

UV is the part of the electromagnetic spectrum between visible light and  X-rays. The specific portion of the UV spectrum between 200 - 400 nm has a strong germicidal effect, with peak effectiveness at 265nm. At these wavelengths UV kills microorganisms by penetrating cell membranes and damaging their DNA and other intracellular molecules, making them unable to reproduce and effectively killing them.The different classes of UV are:
    •     UV vacuum: 40 - 200 nm
    •     UVc area: 200 - 280 nm
    •     UVb area: 280 - 315 nm
    •     UVc area: 315 - 400 nm

There are two main types of UV technology, based on the type of UV lamps used: low pressure and medium pressure. Low pressure lamps have a monochromatic UV output (limited to a single wavelength at 254nm, whereas medium pressure lamps have a polychromatic UV output (between 185-400nm).
Low pressure UV lamps have traditionally been used in water treatment plants because their UV output at 254nm closely matches the absorption peak of DNA bases at 265nm. Recent research, however, has shown that E. coli DNA is capable of photo reactivation after exposure to low pressure UV, but not after exposure to medium pressure UV. Further studies concluded that polychromatic, medium pressure UV radiation is much more effective than monochromatic low pressure UV at causing permanent, irreparable damage to the DNA of E. coli.
The implications of these findings are far-reaching. For any industry where UV is used to disinfect water or effluent, the operator needs to be sure that the treatment is permanent. This is especially the case when the treated liquid will subsequently be exposed to light. The applications affected by these findings include anywhere the treated water or effluent is subsequently exposed to light. Examples include wastewater, bottled water, fisheries and swimming pools. Also important, due to the possibility of dark repair, are drinking water and process water applications.

The Truth about Conventional UV Systems

    •     Many systems lack sensors, lack alarms, give off false alarms due to fouled sensors, or have no fail-safe shut-off valves, resulting in unsafe water entering your water system with no knowledge to the unsuspecting water drinker.

    •     The UV lamp is mounted inside the quartz tube and overheats when water-flow is low, resulting in unsafe UV levels.

    •     Maintenance requirements are difficult and must be done frequently. The fragile quartz tubes must be cleaned with acid to remove mineral build-up and bio-film, often breaking in the process.

    •     Improper maintenance results in a fouled quartz tube which blocks the UV output, resulting in a UV dose to weak to deactivate dangerous pathogens.

It is for this reason that at Ivory Consult we provide integrated water treatment solutions that include multiple stage filtration, carbon membrane, reverse osmosis and/ or ultra violet technologies. 
What have been your challenges in the Kenyan market and how are you addressing them?

The biggest challenge has been in the area of raising awareness on water quality. Whenever one mentions water pollutants people always assume bacterial pollutants only. The idea of integrated solutions is being accepted albeit slowly.The campaign for raising awareness is expensive. Ideally, it should be undertaken by government and NGOs.

You mention that your marketing team is technical. What do you mean?

Our Marketing team is made up of graduates who studied Chemistry, Microbiology or Civil Engineering. This means that we do not just push to sell systems but instead we design and recommend well suited solutions. This we do whether it is with a small home counter top system or a large centralized industrial system.

How is IC interacting with consumers and what is your corporate social responsibility?

Our Company IS social responsibility!  Our very life blood is social responsibility.  We do not believe that making profit and social responsibility are mutually exclusive.  On the contrary, we know that our long term social and financial success depends on our socially responsible business model that upholds the dignity of all persons, provides them with a variety of choices for affordable, high-quality, effective and appropriate solutions, and that takes long term interest in the successful functioning and results of our solutions.   

Thus, in addition to selling affordable, appropriate, high quality water treatment solutions, we also work in rural water schemes. We provide technical advice to Ministry of Water and the Ministry of Environment pro bono.  We are members of the African Round Table on Sustainable Consumption and Production, ARSCP and African Life Cycle Analysis Network, ALCAN where we make pro bono technical contributions for the betterment of Africa’s environment.  We are part of Students in Free Enterprise, SIFE to encourage socially responsible business and wealth creation; we train primary and secondary school teachers to educate our children to think creatively and to innovate and to thereby have the courage and confidence to finally cut Kenya’s debilitating ties to foreign aid.

And so, IC’s vision comes full circle: to create confidence in our own Kenyan solutions, our own Kenyan brands, our own Kenyan human and physical resources – to create a better world for all in Kenya, in Africa, and in the world beyond.

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