Developing logistics innovations for humanitarian action

By supporting Médecins sans frontières (MSF), the Veolia Foundation confirms its commitment to innovate alongside its partners. Together with the NGO, it has embarked on a major action research programme to test new operating modes and new equipment that could be used for humanitarian response work.
Watsan, Sud Soudan, crédits Nick Owen, MSF

Humanitarian and Development


Clément Petit
Thibaut Constant
Damien Machuel

€100,000 at the 17/10/14 committee for the Research/Innovation programme
€50,000 at the 17/10/14 committee for the Moissala project
€150,000 at the 26/01/16 Board
€200,000 at the 13/02/2017 Board
€200 000 at the 17/12/2018 Board
€170 000 at the 16/12/2019 Board

Project Leader

Médecins sans frontières

"The collaboration between MSF and the Veolia Foundation has worked perfectly since 2012, and the two organizations share the goal of strengthening and enhancing it. This extensive joint effort focusing on technical innovation issues gives a new dimension to the partnership and enhances the technical contribution the Veolia Foundation is able to bring its partners."
Thibaut Constant

The Veolia Foundation and Médecins sans frontières (MSF) are long-standing partners. Their first partnership was in 2010 with the restoration and extension of the drinking water network in the city of Kalémie, Katanga to fight against cholera in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The installation and testing of an emergency water treatment plant (Aquaforce 500) in refugee camps in northern Uganda followed shortly afterwards.

Further to these first successes, the two partners signed a framework agreement formalising the relationship between these two humanitarian response stakeholders in 2012. The principle is simple: MSF asks the Foundation for research/action support, based on the technical skills available within the Veolia Group; the Foundation provides MSF with its Veoliaforce volunteer experts to support it in its research and innovation projects on issues related to its activities in the field and in areas close to Veolia Group's businesses (energy, waste, sanitation, and drinking water). The objective is to test new operating modes and equipment to allow MSF to better control its environmental footprint and gain autonomy during a humanitarian response.

In Chad, Grégory Gamboa worked on the installation of photovoltaic solar panels to make the Moissala malaria treatment centre in Moissala autonomous and secure its energy supply.

This partnership was materialised through a pilot project for photovoltaic solar power supply. MSF has been running a major malaria prevention and management project in the Moissala region of southern Chad since 2010. Malaria is the leading cause of death among children under five in this district.  The NGO has a base camp on-site, hosting between five and ten expatriates and local staff and a large stock of equipment and medicines. The particularly isolated location of this base camp, its average size, and its sun exposure made it an ideal site to test a photovoltaic solar power supply solution. In 2015, Grégory Gamboua, Innovation Project Manager in MSF's Logistics Department, went to Chad to test a hybrid photovoltaic system. The goal is to make the mission autonomous by securing its power supply.

Renewed in 2015, the partnership has deepened. MSF is running an HIV programme in western Kenya. A mobile screening and minor surgery centre was designed to travel around Ndhiwa County, which is particularly affected by the virus, for two years. The Foundation participated in the scheme by providing an Aquaforce 500 mobile water treatment unit to supply the health centre. A stream of Veoliaforce volunteers came to the site to train MSF staff in setting up and operating the Aquaforce. The two partners also worked on developing a field guide for solar hybrid generators, making a 6 kVA 'plug and play' solar kit, and other renewable energy projects.

The focus was put on innovation in the water and sanitation sector in 2016. At MSF's request, the Foundation increased the Aquaforce range with a model to supply 15 000 people with water:  the Aquaforce 15 000. Conclusive tests allowed the product's initial design to be improved by adapting it to the constraints in the field. In 2018, a full-scale prototype was tested in Uganda, in a context of mass displacement of people fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo. This first deployment not only helped stem the nascent cholera epidemic, but also validated the choices made during the development of this new waste treatment plant.

At the same time, MSF  continued to use the Aquaforce 500 , which, in 2017, was also the subject of concerted deployments in medium and large hospitals, including in Al Qayyara (South Mosul). Comparative studies on family and community water filtration solutions were also carried out in 2017.

The research effort of both partners also addresses the issue of sanitation and wastewater treatment. The Foundation supports MSF in assessing technical solutions for effluent treatment, in particular, through the definition of a monitoring methodology and measurement tools adapted to response contexts. In 2016, the two partners worked, in particular, on dehydration latrines. Installed in Uganda and South Sudan, they are the result of the adaptation of pre-existing solutions tested in the field by MSF teams. South Sudan was also the testing ground for a project on treating excreta using bio-activators. In 2018, the joint work of the teams focused on designing a wastewater treatment plant for an MSF hospital in Haiti (biodisks).

In terms of waste management, the resources provided by the Foundation have enabled the development of several types of incinerators intended for health centres or base camps.

A study programme for wastewater treatment solutions was also launched in Haiti and extended to other countries in 2017 with the aim of offering a quality standard that MSF can meet in the treatment of effluents from its missions worldwide. Biological products reducing the volumes of excreta retained in latrines in emergency humanitarian situations were also tested in 2017. The treatment of cholera effluents remains another area of study which is monitored with the support of the University of Brighton.

Lastly, the partnership includes a training component. The Foundation supports MSF in the cultural change that goes hand-in-hand with innovation and conducts field missions to familiarise teams with the equipment provided. In 2017, the two partners planned to include training sessions on the Aquaforce 500 in the MSF operational team training course to allow them to integrate this technology among the options available to them for drinking water supply during the various missions.

Innovation is at the heart of the Veolia Foundation's approach. As such, support for the action research programme in conjunction with MSF was renewed at the end of 2018. The work carried out with this major international humanitarian response NGO confirms the relevance of the approach and extends the expertise of the Veoliaforce network.

Topics in 2019-2020

  • Drinking water: further development of the Aquaforce 15,000 treatment unit, completion and validation of its user manual and expansion of its use in emergency situations; hybrid solar/engine pumping; electrochlorination and in-line chlorination module; monitoring of biofilms in pipes (for Pseudomonas aeruginosa); fast cholera detection test.
  • Sanitation: continuation of the work initiated on bio-discs as a wastewater treatment solution; wastewater analysis kit for use in monitoring installed treatment systems; above-ground latrines; bio-activators for excreta digestion in latrines.
  • Hygiene and waste: the use of a recycled "water wall" for hand washing; sharps management solutions; organic waste management; storage, packaging and transport of dangerous molecules used in therapies (cytotoxins).