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Monday, 22 April, 2002, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
Business taps into Africa water
river flowing through Africa
Access to clean water is crucial
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By Penny Young
In Cairo
Businesses are hoping to play a part in providing clean safe drinking water and improved sanitation in the developing world.

Every day, more than 25,000 people die from water-borne disease.

The issue was discussed at the Water Africa exhibition in Cairo.

The waters of the Nile have, for thousands of years, been a free resource for the peoples living along the river's banks, from Burundi to the Mediterranean coast.

But pressure from increasing populations, and factors blamed on climate change, mean that water - and means of getting at it - have become big business.

Companies from throughout the world are competing to tap into the market.

Increased business

Gregoire Jeanson, the manager of Paris-based Europipe, says the potential for water-carrying throughout Africa is good.

"The demand for water is getting bigger and bigger every year," Mr Jeanson said.

"You need to be in the right time in the right place with the political powers. You cannot move too fast, but it's very promising."

Some businesses are already thriving.

Japanese-owned Sumitomo Cyclo Europe has seen demand for specialised gear boxes used in the water industry soar in Africa.

Area manager Stephen Brown said sales over the past 18 months had increased by 50% in Africa.

"Africa is a growing market," Mr Brown said.

"We're introducing a new product so we've probably not seen a recession like the suppliers of similar types of products.

"You've just got to look at a bit of hard work and you should get the benefits."

Increased expense

Only one in three of the world's households has a water supply on tap in the home.

Most others get their water from rivers, lakes, springs or wells or, in towns, from stand-pipes shared with hundreds of other families.

It is an expensive problem to address and government funds in Africa are limited.

But Hennie Potgieter from South African water drilling services company Samchem, believes that, as sources dry up or become contaminated, new supplies will have to be found.

"The potential is big - without water, people cannot survive."

He believes that starvation fears will prompt people to drill water wells in the next five to 10 years.

"It is expensive but if you measure the possible rewards of having water and growth in the area it outweighs the expenses," Mr Potgieter said.

Because of the lack of government cash, the increasing trend in Africa is to seek funding for projects from a mixture of public and private sources.

Increased demand

Charities also see fresh, safe water as a key to development.

Global water consumption grew six-fold in the last century.

The forecast is that by 2025, two thirds of the world's population will be living in areas with acute water shortages.

For those people, any business which can help them access this most precious resource could be a lifesaver.

See also:

15 Apr 02 | Africa
Africa tackles water crisis
30 Nov 01 | Africa
Africa's shared water worries
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