Drawing the right straw


A South African company is importing a chemical free, micro-filtration system called LifeStraw, which provides cleaner and safer drinking water

Billed as safer than tap, river, dam or bottled water, and said to assist in the prevention of illness from bacteria and microscopic parasites like Cryptosporidium and Giardia, the new innovation has been awarded, among other recognitions, Best Invention of the Year in 2005 by TIME Magazine and, according to Reader’s Digest, Europe’s Best Invention in 2006.

The product exceeds the criteria of the “highly protective” category for microbiological performance as defined in WHO’s 2011 ‘Evaluating Household Water Treatment Options: Health-based targets and microbiological performance specifications’.

The product is being imported through Aqua4Life from Vestergaard Frandsen, a Swiss-based company committed to improving the health of vulnerable people.

The product range is being made available to the South African retail market in the forms of LifeStraw Personal (filters up to 1 000 litres), LifeStraw Go (filters up to 1 000 litres) and LifeStraw Home unit (filters up to 4 500 litres), with other LifeStraw units which filter from 1 000 litres up to 100 000 litres of water, ideal for rural and disadvantaged communities.

Clean water for children

Upon purchase of any product in the range, Vestergaard provides clean water for a child in South Africa for the period of one year through its humanitarian Social Responsibility programme.

Aqua4Life, a South African-based Pty Company, has also partnered with various other service providers including Rotary International (Clean Water & Sanitation), University of Johannesburg (Water & Health Research) and Human Moments and supplies humanitarian products (filtering up to 100 000 litres) to southern African governments, GIZ, US Aid, Red Cross, WHO as well as with Corporate SA via CSI funding initiatives to implement clean water solutions to those who most need it.

Though this water filtration solution may not combat the general contamination of South Africa’s dilapidated, eroding water pipes and systems, dangerous chemicals, nor the irrigation water and water sources available for animal consumption, it does offer a short-term solution (approximately three years), rendering clean drinking water to urban, peri-urban and rural area residents.

Asked where the inspiration came from for the product, Aqua4Life founder Nico Germishuizen says with all the labour unrest over the last five years, his environmental health and safety business was slowly taking a downturn as resource businesses and, subsequently, manufacturing companies downscaled their purchasing of personal protection equipment and other safety products and services.

Alternative income stream

“This led to a need for an alternative income stream to maintain businesses. I was looking for something that would be community-oriented, provide an income and, obviously, do good too. Thus I was looking for a ‘business for good’ model,” says Germishuizen.

This is when he came across LifeStraw. “I was blown away by their product range and the positive initiatives they run in poor communities. Contact was made, and it was an opportune time to get involved. The contract was finally concluded toward the end of September 2013.”

How does having access to clean drinking water help create the environment for local business to thrive, we asked him.

“It goes without saying,” says Germishuizen, “that without staff being regularly at work, your business will not survive. So while staff should have access to clean water, they should also have clean water at home. One of our major initiatives is around gaining more attended school days for children. In many instances, children miss school due to upset stomachs, and this can be prevented by drinking clean water,” he says.

Asked if the new product is sustainable, or merely a stopgap until such time as adequate water infrastructure arrives, he says: “Considering that the basic products have a life span of approximately three years, we initially were a short- to medium-term solution for filtering unclean water. However, the cost of implementing current infrastructure repair and maintenance projects, not to mention the need for new infrastructure for peri-urban and rural areas, means government cannot provide any effective solution.”

A lifestyle need

“A recent Carte Blanche report said the repair bill for water infrastructure in South Africa was in the region of R700bn. We have now taken the view that with ongoing funding from various sources, the product’s use will be sustainable in the longer term. My belief is that it will become a lifestyle need in most homes.”
Germishuizen says Aqua4Life in South African is a “profit for good company – not a charity, and not an NGO. I put the product into a separate legal entity to protect the brand. We have a South African subsidiary that has a 26.1% BBBEE partner dealing exclusively with CSI funding for identified projects in communities which most require intervention.”

He says the company’s core business is to focus on a holistic project plan that will benefit each community in which it activates a project. This will have elements of water, income generation, food sustainability, health and education.

“Expansion will only be affected as we implement projects with funding raised. The more funding raised, the more projects are implemented, the more upliftment takes place and, hopefully, the cycle of poverty will start being broken,” says Germishuizen.

He says the really exciting part of the venture is that in a retail context, mother company Vestergaard will reinvest to provide one school child with clean water for a year when a LifeStraw product is purchased.

The company, he says, is also embarking on a retail initiative with some of its product range. “There are various fund-raising initiatives linked to our retail business model that will in turn provide extra funding for projects. Generally speaking, the goal of CSI is to lift communities out of poverty, by giving people access to a basic human right.”

In most cases, he adds, the most basic of human needs are shelter, food and water. “Once these basic needs are addressed, the focus shifts to initiatives such as education and access to learning how to earn an income. In my view, more people having access to these core needs allows more of the population to be economically engaged which, in turn, alleviates costly and damaging problems such as crime.”


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