Merck and Safe Water Network Launch Initiative to Improve Water Access and Help Reduce the Impact of Water-Borne Disease in India

Apr 18, 2012

Merck and Safe Water Network, announced the launch of a three-year, $1.5M partnership to increase access to safe water and reduce the impact of water-borne disease among impoverished communities in Andhra Pradesh, India. Safe Water Network is a not-for-profit organization committed to developing locally owned and operated water-purification systems that achieve lasting health impact.

This initiative addresses a critical need in India where an estimated 70 – 80 percent of the total burden of disease is related to water contamination and poor sanitation, and where more than 120,000 children under the age of five die each year from rotavirus diarrhea alone1.
"Clean water is fundamental to the world's health and to Merck's mission of fighting disease and helping the world be well. No where is this more true than in India, which faces a significant challenge related to clean water," said K. G. Ananthakrishnan, managing director, MSD India. "Our partnership with Safe Water Network is a testament of our commitment to help reduce the impact of water-related illness in India and of Merck's overall efforts to improve health globally."
Building on Safe Water Network's field activities in the area, this collaboration will provide clean water to additional villages in Andhra Pradesh and develop demand generation programs that seek to increase household usage. Together, Merck and Safe Water Network will also work to increase awareness of the importance of clean water and hygiene to drive behavior change.
The campaigns will be assessed to measure the impact on safe water usage and improved health.
"This partnership aims to expand the impact of our safe-water projects," said Kurt Soderlund, chief executive officer, Safe Water Network. "It will accelerate our work to develop solutions that can be broadly replicated. The initiative demonstrates how companies like Merck can play an important role in developing solutions to global water challenges."
This collaboration is aligned with Merck's commitment to addressing access to clean water, a key component of the company's corporate responsibility approach. A signatory to the UN's CEO Water Mandate, Merck will apply its core business expertise, advocacy efforts and employee social responsibility programs to address access to clean water in India.

About India's Water Challenge

India faces significant water and sanitation challenges. Seventy-five percent of the country's surface water is contaminated by human, agricultural and industrial waste2, while half of the country's population lacks access to basic sanitation3. Those living in urban slums and rural environments are most affected. In many areas of the country, a growing dependence on groundwater for drinking is associated with a rise in health problems due to fluoride, salinity, water-borne pathogens, nitrate and other contaminants found in the water. In Andhra Pradesh, only 31 percent4 of households treat their water before use, and 43 percent5 of children under the age of five are stunted, a common result of frequent episodes of diarrhea.

About the Initiative

This joint effort draws on Safe Water Network's field experience in India, Ghana and Kenya to address the operating, economic, cultural and environmental challenges to safe water access. The team will apply a rigorous method to data collection and analysis to produce effective demand generation and education methods that can be replicated at scale throughout India.
The initiative will add a dozen sites to Safe Water Network's existing field projects in Andhra Pradesh, which already provide nearly 40,000 people access to clean water. The additional sites will provide safe water access to another 20,000 - 30,000 people. Each phase of the initiative will be documented, including the data on health outcomes. Key findings will be shared with the water and sanitation sector as well as other organizations to help raise awareness to address the global water crisis.
Merck and Safe Water Network are also exploring employee volunteer opportunities as part of the partnership in the areas of health, behavior change and quality assurance. Merck's commitment complements the work of other global organizations that already bring expertise to various Safe Water Network field projects.

1 Tate et al. (2009). “Disease and economic burden of rotavirus diarrhoea in India.” Vaccine. Vol. 27, supplement 5.
2 “India Failing to Control Open Defecation Blunts Nation’s Growth,” Bloomberg, March 3, 2009.
3 UNICEF and World Health Organization Joint Monitoring Programme.
4 National Family Health Survey 2005‐2006 state report for Andhra Pradesh.
5 National Family Health Survey 2005‐2006 state report for Andhra Pradesh.

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