Dream of clean, affordable water trickles closer

Pharmagen Health Care, with the support of the Acumen Fund, is making waves in Lahore.

Our Correspondent March 22, 2012

LAHORE: In a country where 46% of the population (according to a UN report) is devoid of clean drinking water, a small initiative to provide filtrated and mineralised water – for the low price of Rs1.5 per litre – is an innovative and praiseworthy initiative.

Two customers interviewed reported  a significant improvement in flavour from the water they were used to. This new filtrated water is from Pharmagen Health Care (PHC).

Farah who lives in Lahore’s DHA, heard of PHL water from her maid, who purchases it from Cavalry Ground. “It has a good taste,” she says. “We have had water delivered from other companies before this. PHL has a distinct sweet flavor and it is definitely good value for money,” Farah adds.

With 49% funding from the Acumen Fund, PHC extracts water from 400 feet below ground. The company sells it across 16 outlets in Lahore’s poorer areas.

The water is first treated with chlorine and is then filtered five times using different methods. It is then treated with the reverse osmosis procedure and is then mineralised. Ozone gas is added after a final carbon filtration and is sterilised using ultraviolet rays.

PHC CEO Pervez Sufi says that, instead of adding chemically synthesized minerals, the company uses safe water to get a balanced product that contains essential natural minerals suitable for human consumption. He says ozone gas is a highly potent bactericidal and converts into oxygen upon storage. This further enriches the water quality, he says.

According to Sufi, the price charged is 30% to 50% of the procedure cost.

Sufi says that, initially, when the venture started in 2009, banners and posters were circulated. Free water samples were handed through a door-to-door activity. But now it’s getting popular, he claims.

On average, water is delivered from all outlets to about 5,707 homes. There are about 2,000 walk-in customers daily for all outlets. He says the target market is those with an average salary of less than Rs20,000 a month.

And now the venture has gained momentum, PHC and the Acumen Fund are trying to take it a step further by setting a goal of opening 10 to 15 more outlets across Lahore and beyond – in other areas of Punjab. “Once we have gained sufficient experience in Lahore, we will consider moving to other cities,” said Sufi.

Noorullah Sheikh, Pakistan portfolio manager for Acumen Fund says, “Our priority is to provide water to the poor, because in Pakistan the poor pay a higher price than the rich.” One such problem often faced is arsenic. Arsenic traces in water is an increasing problem in Lahore, as cited by four studies in 2009. Arsenic can be a cause of cancer.

“We plan to open 10 to 15 more outlets in Lahore with the collaboration with PHC before setting out for the rest of Punjab,” said Sheikh.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 22nd, 2012.


A. Khan | 9 years ago | Reply

And what happens when the water table drops because of this rapid and unsustainable expansion?

The same thing as when India dams off most of the rivers. Ravi is already dry and so are Chenab and Sutlej. Pakistan has a serious water issue coming up in next 10-20 years, one that will have devastating consequences on its agriculture.

Pk | 9 years ago | Reply

And what happens when the water table drops because of this rapid and unsustainable expansion?

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