In Africa, it is drinking water from life

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By Jean-Marc corset  

"I have seen women digging the dune and wells by hand to reach the water table and collect the waters with buckets. But the water that people drank was salty. It was in Madagascar in 1990. Almost thirty years ago, the problem of drinking water is already "obvious" to him. At that time, Renaud de Watteville was creating skateboarding and snowboarding events, going as far as making mountains of artificial snow in London or São Paulo. In total awareness of the value of this raw material, the entrepreneur has taken the lead in transforming salt water into drinking water.

Responsible for the sporting events of Expo. 02, he made a crucial encounter in his quest for Blue Gold: the EPFL engineer Jean-François Treyvaud invented a clever system to desalinate the sea water. Inspired by this technology, the entrepreneur boards a prototype in his garage in Belmont-sur-Lausanne, but realizes that the targeted people mainly need a machine to treat brackish water, a little salty but very contaminated, often at Mercury, arsenic or fluorine.

A passionate handyman, but not an engineer, he is hardly impressed by the size of the challenge to be faced. Today he smiled, amused by his own audacity. It then develops an automated mechanical processing system, without chemistry and "low cost", which significantly reduces salt and eliminates parasites, bacteria, viruses, antibiotics, heavy metals and micropollutants to provide ready-to-drink water. This "water kiosk" will be tested in Senegal. Singular element: to avoid the glitches inherent in such a system, it provides remote management – thanks to sensors and the GSM network – from Romanel-sur-Lausanne! This is where the Swiss fresh water company (SFW), founded by the compers in 2008, manufactures the machines. On site in Africa, the kiosk Manager charges the purified water about 1.5 cents per litre to ensure salaries and maintenance costs.

In the heart of the black continent, Renaud de Watteville quickly understands the mode of operation. "The more I travel, the less I judge," he remarked, Accreting the idea that travel also forms the elders. In Senegal, among the most deprived, two hours of a canoe of urban life, he hears by an Imam that his father, pastor, "worked for someone formidable". It is in this mutual respect, he says, that he will take language with the head of the region, Badara Diom, a seasoned man whom he mistrusted at first glance. But, convinced, the latter appropriates the project and the duct drum beating. From two water kiosks for the pilot project supported by the Confederation, we have now passed to nearly 170 Swiss made machines supplying 100,000 to 120,000 litres per day (depending on the season) for a population pool of 315 ' 000 people.

A radical impact on health

"We see directly the impact on health," observes Renaud de Watteville. He's radical. Some people say to me, "I don't have a stomach fever anymore. "In other words, diarrhea! This network of water kiosks generated many direct (more than 600) and indirect jobs: women created a trade in ice cream, fruit juice… He is delighted to see how this entrepreneurial and humanitarian project has forged new social ties within the village communities. Now withdrawn from SFW's operational activity, which provides its system in other countries, it takes care of the access to water Foundation (A2W) – launched by the company in 2012 – which seeks funding for machinery, implements the project at the level local level and provides training.

Renaud de Watteville wanted to distinguish clearly the business of the humanitarian. The entrepreneur, passionate pioneer in all his projects – at the foot of the AI towers in Leysin with the champions of the slides as on the banks of the river Saloum with a local population who fights every day to improve his living conditions –, now puts his soul to bare. The gaze turned to a sky seldom cloudless, he drank the messages of the little Prince, which he just reread. The training airplane pilot, prevented from flying because of a too pronounced color blindness, a terrible child of the Lausanne branch of the Watteville family, appears to have been asacted. The youngest of Jacques, the former senior diplomat "ranked" as President of the BCV, and two sisters, Diane and Caroline, who radiates in culture, is also ennobled by his rich course. After travelling the world, everyone finds the siblings in Lausanne to surround their mother, explains Renaud, delighted.

He does not hide his dented childhood that shaped his adventure: he has been operating his legs several times due to sports accidents and he has failed in the University way. I was very bad at school, he said modestically. Born in Holland, he grew up in Paris, where he witnessed the events of may 68. He arrived in Lausanne at the age of 11, when his father was appointed to the parish of the Cathedral. From the age of 16 years, deprived of sports too physical because of his fragile legs, he spends a lot of time on the water as a sailing instructor. But with ideas full of brains. His friend Raphaël Mettler, Brewer of the three Dames in Sainte-Croix, met in the world of skateboarding of the years 80, applauds "a man who does not retreat in front of the challenges, who tries each time to bounce in difficult passages".

At 61 years old, Renaud de Watteville thought to convey the witness to the youth of his Foundation, retaining the role of consultant. Perhaps to better contemplate the energy of water, so rich in life, flowing in its entrepreneurial-adventurer veins.

Jean-Marc corset, author at 24heures.ch

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