Close Comfort Pty Ltd

Nedlands, Western Australia, Australia
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  • Energy and Environment, Economic Opportunity, Clean Water, Sanitation and Hygiene

  • Bangladesh | India | Pakistan | Global Programs

  • Children and youth, Women and girls, Economically disadvantaged people

  • Business

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Executive Summary

Everybody needs safe drinking water. The new United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 targets universal, affordable and equitable access. In Australia, safe drinking water costs $3/ton in almost unlimited quantities while the real cost of safe water for billions of people in South Asia and elsewhere is $30 - $150/ton and people struggle to get enough to survive. Why? Piped water utilities are failing across the developing world, leaving many people to drink contaminated water with catastrophic health and economic consequences. Safe drinking water must be carried and treated because piped water is unsafe or unavailable. We will develop new sustainable community scale utilities by transplanting key elements that have made cell phone utilities successful enterprises everywhere, providing reliable and affordable service for all. We will road test solutions to create confidence that will unlock financial resources to provide everyone with safe and affordable drinking water where they need it.

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The Problem

The problem is safe drinking water distribution. Obtaining and treating bulk water is relatively inexpensive: even desalination costs only $0.50 per ton. Piped water supply utilities are failing in most low income countries and few if any provide a 24/7 supply of safe water. For example, good utilities in South Asia provide intermittent water for 1 2 hours every 2nd day: sewerage seeps in through leaks during the off time contaminating the network. Many leaks result from crude attempts by engineers to enforce revenue collection by temporarily disconnecting adjacent water and sewerage pipes to recalcitrant customers. Air trapped in pipes destroys meters. A downward spiral in service quality and revenue collection forces people to stand in line to bribe tanker drivers to refill contaminated domestic tanks. Water has to be filtered and sterilized to make it safe, or supplied in 20 liter bottles at $100 150/ton. Low trust between consumers, utilities and government undermines attempts to improve service quality. Conventional water supply technologies require trust and collaboration between diverse social actors which is much more difficult than in high income countries so the problem persists. When women carry and purify water their labor is unpaid but comes at a cost: more than $30/ton across South Asia using standard value of time models. The consequences of drinking water safety failures affect everyone: the real cost of getting just enough can exceed 10% of family income. It helps to explain stubbornly persistent poverty, stunting and malnutrition from environmental enteropathy caused by fecal contamination. Reference Information

Proposed Solution

Our solution is to build new, financially sustainable, community scale water utilities providing safe and reliable piped water service by incorporating key elements that have made cell phone networks successful enterprises everywhere. The pipe networks will have integrated information technology with reliable water purification and distribution hardware, delivering safe drinking water to taps (faucets) at $3/ton. By demonstrating financial sustainability we can unlock the resources to enable communities everywhere to acquire their own safe drinking water supply systems. Piped drinking water benefits everyone, especially empowering women and children. The health benefits are enormous: an overwhelming proportion of preventable medical issues in low income societies can be overcome with reliable safe piped drinking water, permanently. Eliminating fecal contamination improves food absorption, improving nutrition. Women and children liberated from sickness and exhausting physical labor can invest time and energy on education. The key success factor is information technology that mediates essential trust between all the diverse social actors that have to collaborate: that's why cell phone networks sustain themselves. People trust cell phones enough to use pre paid credit, and investors trust the technology as a sustainable business model for a low income country. Our system will also have built in leak and theft detection to minimize non revenue water. The technology embodies high level expertise into the system, like cell phones, so that ordinary people can install, operate and maintain the system. Social justice requires carefully designed regulation with community and government oversight, and guaranteed access to sufficient drinking water without credit. Reference Information

Evidence of Effectiveness

Extensive research evidence demonstrates willingness to pay for reliable safe drinking water delivered on plot, as well as large health and economic benefits. What has been missing is an economically sustainable drinking water distribution technology that works in low and medium income societies. The one utility model that works everywhere is the cell phone network, displacing inefficient and corruptible telephone landline monopolies. Current water utilities are, in principle, little different from the original landline phone systems with manual meter reading and simple un instrumented pipe connections. Research has identified cell phone success factors. For example, information technology fosters trust between diverse human actors, trust that is essential for economic sustainability. Users need to trust the technology to pay in advance and owners rely on the technology to ensure users pay before they access the service. Cell phones also demonstrate how complex operating expertise can be embodied in the product, eliminating the need for high level technical training for local installers, operators and maintainers. Additional features necessary for water distribution such as a free social water allowance and minimizing non revenue water are part of our system design. All the required physical components rely on long established, universally recognized, reliable, commercial off the shelf technologies, assembled in a slightly different way from past practices. We have assembled the core components to confirm that they work. Appropriate community scale regulatory frameworks have been used in local government for decades, and many local government entities manage their own water supply utilities today. Reference Information and Citations

Previous Performance

Success demands a creative team with technical capacity to deliver innovative technology in low medium income societies with cultural sensitivity as well as the ability to align project interests with key influential stakeholders. CC has a track record for delivering innovative technology in South Asia: a simple consumer product providing affordable and sustainable air conditioned comfort for people struggling to sleep through hot humid nights. It requires just 300 Watts and has built in mosquito protection. There is no need for installation or building alterations. It runs on solar power during the day and batteries at night. The product has been successfully launched in Pakistan: people buy the product without any government interventions or subsidies. James Trevelyan also led the team that developed sheep shearing robots between 1975 and 1990: a $25 million project in today's terms, and an advanced and complex robotic application most experts thought was impossible. IDS has a long established network of government level influencers and a long record of successful community development projects on the ground in Pakistan and other countries. IDS also has high level development finance expertise critical in evolving a utility design that is financially self sustaining in a low medium income society. We will replicate these successes to bring an affordable and financially sustainable piped water solution to market. This is simple technology built with knowledge of human behavior that communities will trust and acquire for themselves with outside finance. We have access to all the expertise we need through our international advisory board.

The Team

Team Purpose

Close Comfort (CC) is a small company that aims to benefit people with ingenious and sustainable technology designed with understanding of human behavior. Innovative Development Strategies (IDS) provides internationally respected social science and development economics expertise critical for developing a solution that is sustainable at a community level, government regulated, with realistic financing. We both operate in Pakistan where there is hardly any safe piped drinking water today: we all experience this problem first hand. We combine technical expertise with socio economic, political and cultural experience, commercialization ability in low income countries and mass market product manufacture. We worked on this issue for decades, motivated by a desire to eliminate unnecessary suffering and crippling economic burdens caused by drinking water distribution failures. The solution emerged from James Trevelyan's research on engineering practices in South Asia and the implementation opportunity comes from Sohail Malik's extensive influence with government actors whose collaboration is essential.

Team Structure

Under our memorandum of understanding, CC and IDS will jointly incorporate a single company in Australia to execute the project with full accountability with MacArthur foundation oversight. James Trevelyan will direct the project and, with IDS, will build teams in Australia and Pakistan to engineer the technology and implement prototype water distribution systems in Pakistan communities. James has 43 years of engineering innovation experience, coupled with finance and investment expertise. Sohail Malik leads IDS and will direct operations in target communities in Pakistan. The Australian team will be responsible for project finance and administration, technical solutions, equipment design, and manufacture. The Pakistan team will install water systems and provide technical support for system operators and evaluators in target communities. CC will provide access to its networks of reliable, high quality manufacturers in China and Pakistan. The team will also access leading international research networks through relationships with University of Western Australia, Stanford University, South African Water Research Commission and Pakistan universities. Highly energized and motivated social science, engineering and business students will help generate and investigate alternative solutions to evolve the best technological, economic, and regulatory designs for this project.