Monday May 29, 2017

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Hope in a bottle

Icelandic, Greenlandic water to be exported to refugees

Water exports will help sustain people without access to potable water. It could also prove to be a shot in the arm for Greenland’s economy
Paamiut’s hills, alive with the sound of water (Photo: Kommuneqarfik Sermersooq)

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A Canadian humanitarian organisation charged with providing water to refugees around the world as well as to African communities without access to clean water is tapping into Greenlandic and Icelandic glacial water.

Toronto-based On Guard for Humanity, which has been contracted by the UN High Commission for Refugees to provide fresh water for the 60 million people estimated to be living in refugee camps worldwide, settled on Greenland and Iceland because the two countries have a large supply of fresh water, and because they are among the few countries that permit its export.

“Greenland even has laws that expressly permit its export,” says Bruno Månsson, the director of KoldCo Greenland, a Canadian-owned firm that will be responsible for supplying On Guard for Humanity with water from Greenland.

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He was referring to changes in export laws currently making their way through the national legislature that will make it easier and cheaper for firms to export water.

Those changes include the elimination of a provision that required exporters to use water they had obtained by melting ice themselves. Now, firms will be able to use the public water supply, provided that doing so does not affect the availability of water locally.

Shipping water from Iceland has proved straightforward and builds on a 2012 agreement with Brúarfoss, based in Ísafjörður, that saw the firm initially send 24,000 litres of water to a refugee camp in Panama. This April it sent two shiploads of water to Ghana under the current agreement with On Guard for Humanity.

A lack of production facilities in Greenland means its first shipments of water likely will not take place until 2018.

SEE RELATED: Doing big business from a small country

Before any water can be produced, a 36,000 sq m bottling plant must be built in the town of Paamiut and its harbour facilities must be improved.

Once the owners of KoldCo Greenland, which also produces vodka using water made from Greenlandic ice, were contacted by On Guard for Humanity about the possibility of exporting water, the firm went about contacting the national government and Nukissiorfiit, the national power and water utility, to obtain the required permissions.

On Guard for Humanity has already received a 30-year licence to export water from Greenland. The next step is for construction of the plant to be approved by local authorities, which is expected to happen later this year.

Should all go according to KoldCo Greenland’s plans, the plant will come online in 2018. Once it is producing at full capacity, in 2022, KoldCo expects to be able to ship 600,000 cubic metres of water annually, amounting to 575 shipping containers per week.

SEE RELATED: Greenlandic glacial water going global

Initially, the water was to be exported bulk and bottled in Europe, but when the logistics of doing so proved too burdensome, KoldCo decided to bottle the water in Paamiut.

Construction of the plant and the ensuing bottling operation is expected to employ at least 30 people in the town of 1,500.

In addition to providing water to refugees, On Guard for Humanity also provides water to communities in water that do not have access to clean drinking water. These deliveries are taking place as part of a UN programme to clean up polluted lakes and streams that currently cannot serve as sources of potable water.