Clean water in both rural and urban areas across India can be hard to come by. Lack of access creates troubling sanitation conditions and reliance on unsafe water sources contributes to the prevalence of water-borne illness. For instance, one source finds that 1,600 people die daily in India due to diarrhea. The burden of collecting water falls disproportionately on women and girls; this can negatively impact school attendance and also put females into vulnerable positions depending on where they have to collect the water from. In some areas, the government brings in mobile tankers to distribute water, but water shortages create tension and distribution can be chaotic.
It’s not a long-term solution to water deficiencies in a growing population, but Sarvajal hopes to ease the crisis by making water available around the clock through H2O ATMs. The premise is simple: people can go to a solar-powered ATM and tap a pre-loaded card to release purified water to take away. Because the water is there all the time, it eliminates fighting over scarce water drop-offs and allows people to fetch it at their convenience. They can be established anywhere, which creates access points for the more than 150 million Indians who don’t have access to fresh water.
It’s also intended to be an affordable solution. Sarvajal estimates that it would cost a family approximately 300 rupees per month to collect the water they need; 2013 estimates place the average per capita income at over 5,700 rupees monthly. Sarvajal charges for the water because it is a social enterprise, which means that while it does make money, it is also concerned with providing a social service or good to the community.
Although Sarvajal offers sponsorship opportunities through “adopt a community” programs, much of the water is distributed through franchises, which helps to create local employment opportunities. People can become franchisees and be responsible for particular water services in an area. It is their job to fill the ATMs from a main water treatment plant and to monitor the condition of the water to ensure it is clean. Through a multi-step filtration system, Sarvajal says it removes 99.9% of toxins from its water. This is crucial to diminishing high levels of water-borne illness (Sarvajal cites statistics of more than 85% of illness in children caused by bad water), reducing money spent on preventable doctor’s bills. The machines send feedback wirelessly to servers about the filters, water quality and machine health, so those responsible for running them can ensure reliability.
The website is lacking in details in some areas, but Innovate Development has contacted Sarvajal for more details and will provide these as they become available.
Sarvajal means “water for all” in Sanskrit. While it might not be there yet, serving 100,000 daily in over six states, Sarvajal’s technology is heading in the right direction.