What better way to celebrate World Water Day yesterday than the announcement of a $6 million dollar commitment toward water sanitation partnerships throughout Africa? Since 2005, the Coca-Cola Company and Coca-Cola Africa Foundation have created 34 water projects in 19 countries in partnership with USAID and WADA. As part of Coke’s 3-tier water stewardship strategy to reduce, recycle and replenish water used in both Coke beverages and production, this commitment comes as part of a 6 year $30 million commitment for their RAIN program. RAIN aims to provide 2 million people with access to safe drinking water and sanitation by the year 2015, with a geographical focus on Africa.
Access to safe drinking water and water sanitation have become key issues in community development, and are now closely tied with the Millennium Development Goals. According to Muhtar Kent, the Chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, “Supporting initiatives that promote access to water for women and girls is a building block for community health with a ripple effect on social and economic empowerment. This is a win-win for everyone.” The data that connects water safety, accessibility, and sanitation to local sustainability and growth is being collected and confirmed on a global level by several leading NGOs and scientific organizations including the World Resource Insistute. Addressing water is closely tied to addressing gender inequality in developing nations. Collecting drinking water is typically the responsibility of women and girls, removing them from school, community-building, other forms of work, and caring for their families. The World Health Organization estimates that women and children spend 40 billion hours a year collecting water. RAIN’s investments aim to significantly reduce this number while increasing gender equality and female entrepreneurship across Africa.
The 2011 water funding will go to 12 African countries for water accessibility and sanitation projects including Algeria, Kenya, Liberia, Morocco, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tunisia, and Uganda. In Rwanda RAIN’s work has resulted in 17 new community tap stands, 2 schools with water access and 4 with sanitation access along with providing access to clean water for 17,000 people in one region alone.
Many companies have scaled back their philanthropic investments and work in developing countries over the past 4 years, citing economic reasons and lack of results. RAIN’s 6-year goal to provide water for drinking and sanitation to 2 million people is ambitious. Given this year’s target to reach 250,000 women and girls, and their additional reach to 250,000 men and boys, the program is on track to meet its goal*. RAIN’s work with USAID, WADA, and more localized entities has already resulted in some local buy-in and investments that look promising for the long-term sustainability of these programs. Some are critical of Coke’s water investments, citing them as distractions from their significant role in water inequality and depletion. After the drought scandal of 2009 in India, Coke has come under fire by environmentalists and resource scientists for contributing to peak water.
Yet for the people of Africa, this project and the investments in their regions to provide the most basic of needs, water, is a welcome addition for most communities.
*Upon original publication, the estimate stated that only 250,000 women and girls would be reached and concluded that the goal would take 2 additional years to complete. This information did not include the additional 250,000 men and boys, which brings the number up to 500,000 individuals who will benefit in 2011. This addition puts the 6 year goal on track.