Tuesday, March 22, 2011

World Water Day and the World (Water) Cup in Pakistan

Ali Zubair is a resident of Lahore, Pakistan, a city with 10 million people who – like everyone else in this world – are dependent on water as a source of life. Unlike you and me, however, Ali relies on water that is a source of potential death.

Nearly every day, he wakes up and journeys about a hundred meters to this nearby government water plant, believing that it is a safer alternative to the water that comes out of his tap, which has been contaminated by the old and rotting water pipes. Although he admits that this government filtered water might still be unhealthy, Ali claims he has little options since he can't afford to buy purified bottled water from Nestle or to boil water every day at home.

As this picture suggests, Ali’s water source is indeed impure, polluted with thousands of invisible microbiological and chemical impurities. While the government claims they are safe, such filtration points are only further propelling the problem that initiated in Lahore with contaminated tap water. Tragically, the end result is that 40% of all diseases in Pakistan originate from unhealthy water, killing over 200,000 children every year from diarrhea alone.
Fortunately, Pharmagen Healthcare Limited –the social business that I work with – is doing something about this emergency. Throughout the city, we have set up 17 Pharmagen Water shops – including one near Ali – where we purify our own ground water through a comprehensive purification process that involves multiple filtration steps, chlorination, ultra violet treatment and reverse osmosis. In other words, we are eliminating all the bad stuff that the other treatment methods (including boiling water) are not, while pricing our “Pure and Refreshing” water at just 1.5 Rs (about 1 cent) per liter.

Through our partnership with Acumen Fund, we have created 13 new shops over the past 6 months and are planning to add an additional 13 by the end over the year. In addition, we have rolled out several new services – including home and workplace delivery – that enable our customers to have similar service offerings as the affluent, but at a price they can afford.

In order to observe World Water Day (WWD) this week, we are continuing a tradition in Pakistan that began last year in Kenya. In collaboration with another Acumen Fund investee – and in eager excitement for the approaching World Cup – my football team from the Mathare Slum hosted the “World (Water) Cup” football tournament one year ago. This year, the Cricket World Cup is currently in full swing in Asia, and the Pakistani national team will be playing in the quarterfinals tomorrow. Therefore, in order to carry on the tradition, while also celebrating WWD, we will be hosting a “World (Water) Cup” party tomorrow at one of our Pharmagen Water shops.

Through this initiative, our new marketing plan and our planned growth, we hope that Pharmagen Water can continue to provide people like Ali and the rest of Lahore with safe drinking water and that – together, with the rest of the world – we can play a small role in eliminating the need for a day like WWD to even exist. 


  1. Hey Benje, congratulations on adding new shops and I hope your group keeps growing! The filtration process sounds a little expensive. Will Pharmagen Water make enough money one day from the price it charges so that it can buy all the materials/chemicals to filter the water? Will it always need the Acumen partnership?

    Also, I'd love to see more photos posted up. I worked in India, with many friends in Acumen fund, but never made it across the border and would love to see it through your lens. Be safe.


    Danny Thiemann

  2. Thanks Danny, really appreciate the comment! Would love to hear more about your work in India - any chance you are keeping a blog?

    Regarding the costs, we've been able to procure most of the equipment very cheaply, which means that it takes about 6-9 months for us to break even. the Acumen partnership has been key though because it's allowed us to grow much faster than we otherwise would have been able to.

    You should definitely try to head over here, the similarities and difference between India are amazing. I'll be sure to post more pics too!


  3. How much longer will you be there for?


  4. Currently until the end of August. If you get a chance, send me an email (benje.williams@gmail.com) and let me know what part of India you're in. I might be heading that way in April or May.

  5. can u post the address/location of these water shops in lahore?

  6. Hi there, sorry for the delayed response! Here's the location info on our existing 17 shops:

    -Main G.T Road, Near Post Office, Shahdra
    -Lower Mall, Bhatti Chowk, Daata Darbar
    -Main Akbar Road, Chowk Nakhuda, Misri Shah
    -73- G.T Road, Hyde Market Near Total Petrol Pump,Sultanpura
    -Toky Wala Chowk,Sher Shah Rd, New Shad Bagh
    -Shop #201,Allama Iqbal Rd, Mustafa Abad, Dharmpura
    -Shop #50, Nadeem Shaheed Rd, Samanabad
    -Abubakar Park, Nala Rd, Masoorm Shah Badami Bagh
    -Shop #B-7-S-157, Maqbool Road, Ichra
    -Shop #22-A, St# 64, Umar Road,Islampura
    -Shop #3,4, Sehar Road, Baghbanpura
    -H #514/9-E, St #02, Main Bazar, Akramabad, Calvary Ground
    -H #1, St #1, Singhpura, Baghbanpura
    -Shop #1,2,3,4, Plot# 423, Block A, Tajpura Housing Scheme Main Road
    -Nawan Wala Chowk, Pakistan Mint
    -Shop #1, Sham Nagar Road, Chuburgi
    -Barki Street H #21 Rustampark Multan Road,