Water and sanitation entrepreneurs at the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic (part 2)

Creative solutions for challenging times!

In the second part of our panorama of innovative water and sanitation business solutions, we asked Flowless and NAWASSCOAL to tell us more about their experience with COVID-19 and how they adapted their business over the past few months. Read more.

Flowless – Smart Water Quality and Flow Management (Palestine)
The Flowless team

Flowless is a Palestinian start-up that provides smart solutions for water networks management. Their system helps water service providers monitor and control water supply, reducing losses and improving water quality. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Flowless had been operating for less than a year. Thanks to the support received by cewas, Aqua for All and Toilets for All, the start-up managed to survive and has even been able to expand its services.

How has your community and business been affected by the COVID-19 crisis?

Palestine has been heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 70’000 cases have been confirmed since the crisis erupted and the virus has compounded already dire economic conditions. Obviously, adequate water supply is essential for fighting the current pandemic and future diseases. Daily habits of handwashing and regular cleaning contribute to reducing health risks by preventing the overspreading of viruses and germs. However, water supply in Palestine is severely deteriorated – extremely high-water stress is combined with an underdeveloped water sector. 60 percent of the population in the region has no reliable access to drinking water. Water quality is another challenge. Monitoring is not regularly performed. This poses a serious health risk.

At the level of our business, the current lock down has contributed to delaying the implementation of our projects and we had to postpone our growth and scale plans. We have been struggling to maintain effective relationships with our clients and partners. Before the pandemic, we heavily relied on face-to-face meetings and participating in conferences and events to reach out to clients and partners. During the lock down, we have worked to shift our communications to remote communication. FlowLess has been operating for one year now. Our team has invested a great amount of time to develop products and services. With no investments and truly little funds, the team has made significant sacrifices to keep the start-up running.

What is your solution?

The Flowless Smart Unit

FlowLess helps water service providers better manage water distribution networks through remote monitoring, thereby contributing to a more reliable and safer water supply within communities. Our system utilizes IoT devices to collect real-time data about the water network, then analyses the data using artificial intelligence and provides interpretations about water quality and consumption. The results of this analysis are then uploaded to the Flowless web platform. Municipalities have direct access to this platform and can immediately detect leaks, health hazards or other problems within the water distribution network. The support we are receiving from cewas, Aqua for All and Toilets for All, through the WASH versus COVID fund is crucial to increase the capacity of our operations, allowing us to grow and expand and also help us to develop our services and adapt to the current pandemic by introducing more water quality monitoring measures.

We have also changed some internal procedures. Because of COVID-19 and the lock-down, we realised that we need to include new innovations in our business model, specifically in customers and partners relations and distribution channels. We decided to test a new model where most on-site operations are done through business partners and sub-contractors. We also shifted most of our client and partner relations to remote communication instead of relying on face-to-face meetings and conferences and added a newsletter and blog to our portfolio.

Learn more about Flowless

NAWASSCOAL – Bio-fuels from human waste (Kenya) 

Located in the Rift Valley in Kenya, NAWASSCOAL offers sanitation services and transforms human waste into fuel briquettes. The company is currently in its second year of operation, whereby under normal conditions the production and sales performance would have increased gradually from quarter to quarter. However, the COVID-19 outbreak has forced NAWASSCOAL to rethink their operations and realign their priorities. With the support from Aqua for All, the company has shifted their operations to the household market segment.

.How has your community and business been affected by the COVID-19? 

Like many other countries, Kenya is currently going through a second wave of COVID-19 and the government has just imposed new restrictions to fight the pandemic. The containment measures put in place since March have created an exceedingly difficult situation for us. NAWASSCOAL’s main market segment which includes poultry, hotels, eateries, schools and institutions, has been forced to close in Nairobi, Nakuru and neighbouring counties. This has resulted in a huge decline in our sales and has adversely affected our operations and expansion plans. Furthermore, travel restrictions make it impossible to collect faecal sludge and sell briquettes. On top of that, NAWASSCOAL encountered unforeseen expenses to procure health and safety equipment in compliance with the WHO and Kenya Ministry of Health guidelines. At some stage, we considered drastic measures to remain afloat during the pandemic. We even contemplated restructuring the company, which would have forced us to lay off personnel. Worst-case scenario, we would have ceased some, if not all the company’s operations.

NAWASSCOAL staff promote the use of faecal-sludge briquettes at local markets

What is your solution?

While safe water plays a pivotal role in the fight against COVID–19, providing safe sanitation is also essential. In Kenya, only 29% of people have access to sanitation services. Investing in this sector is crucial, especially now. We realised that the COVID-19 outbreak had increased the use of sanitation services at home and we decided to shift our focus to the household market segment and have adjusted our production and sales activities accordingly. We are now for instance promoting briquettes made from faecal sludge at the local marketplace. Briquettes are an environmentally friendly alternative to charcoal and firewood and do not harm people’s health. Thanks to the support we received from Aqua for All, we were able to continue operations, keep our staff and even hire some new sales agents. Aqua for All’s support has also enabled NAWASSCOAL to conduct awareness campaigns on proper sanitation and invest in health and protective equipment for our staff, which allows us to work safely and comply with the general health guidelines. Employees are also working in shifts to ensure social distancing.

Learn more about NAWASSCOAL