PARIS (AFP) — Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus on Monday unveiled a deal between his pioneering Grameen bank and French group Veolia Environment to provide clean water to poor rural communities in Bangladesh.
The Bangladeshi economist also sought support from President Nicolas Sarkozy for creating more microcredit schemes to fight poverty, particularly in Africa.
"I wanted to make him understand how effective a tool microcredit is in helping the poor people, particularly the poor women, to take control of their own lives and pull themselves out of the problems and benefit the children," Yunus told reporters after his meeting at the Elysee palace.
After meeting with Sarkozy, Yunus sat down with top business leaders at the Elysee including billionaire Vincent Bollore and announced the creation of the new joint company with Veolia Environment.
Called Grameen-Veolia Water, the company will operate several water treatment plants in Bangladeshi villages, with the goal of bringing clean water to 100,000 people.
The project represents investments worth 500,000 euros (790,000 dollars).
A first venture is planned for the end of the year in the town of Goalmari, some 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the capital Dhaka, where clean water will be provided through drinking fountains, according to a joint statement.
During his meeting with Sarkozy, Yunus reminded him of the Group of Eight commitment to expand microcredit to Africa and said lending schemes could help the international community meet the UN millennium development goals of halving world poverty by 2015.
"In many other countries, particularly in Asia, many of the development millennium goals would be achieved but Africa is way behind so we need to focus our attention to African countries so they still have time left, so they still can achieve those goals," he said.
Sarkozy told Yunus that France would continue and step up its efforts to provide access to loans to the poor and noted that more than a third of France's African aid funding was now directed toward microfinance.
Yunus, 47, and his Grameen bank were jointly awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace prize for the pioneering programme of lending small sums to poor people who would not qualify for bank credit.
Last month, one of France's top banks, Credit Agricole, launched a foundation with Grameen bank to provide guarantees for microfinance institutions in rural and farming communities.
The Grameen Credit Agricole Foundation was launched with a 50-million-euro endowment.