Neha Singh*, 27 years old was always suspicious about the Municipal water and used to boil it everyday before giving it to her two children. She no longer has to boil the water now that a water ATM has been installed nearby. All she has to do is purchase a rechargeable card for Rs 100 (around 1 GBP) and use it to regularly fill bottles with clean drinking water. She was informed about this new initiative by a neighbor who is also responsible for manning the ATM.
Drinking water is a critical problem in India. The middle class and upper class generally install water purifiers and RO systems at home to access drinking water, this is not possible in the rural sector or urban people who might not be in a position to afford these devices. This section of society simply does not have access to safe drinking water.
While most of the countries have met the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of safe drinking water, India is among the ten nations without access to safe drinking water. The country has 97 million people without access to improved water supplies, according to World Health Organization (WHO).
In this context it is easy to understand the relevance of water ATMs. Earlier this year a number of Water ATMs were installed in Delhi, Alwar and Mumbai. Plans are underway to install them in other parts of the country as well. They are emerging as a viable option to supply clean drinking water to all the sections of the society.
Water ATMs are basically water dispensers supplying safe drinking water at extremely reasonable prices. What makes Water ATMs a winning proposition is that it supplies clean drinking water for just Rs 1 ($0.015 or £0.010) per litre, thus making it affordable for the general public. Bottled water in the market is available for Rs 15 per litre.
Non-Governmental Organisations, like Piramal Foundation and Vandana Foundation, are working with various state Government departments to set up water ATMs in different locations in the country. One such ATM was recently installed at Mankhurd, Mumbai by Vandana Foundation in association with Aquakraft.
“The water supplied by the Municipal Corporation generally has many impurities and people are aware that they cannot use it directly. Sometimes they boil it, sometimes they put some chemicals and sometimes they purchase bottled water. We wanted to offer safe drinking water at affordable price to the general public who mostly doesn’t have access to pure drinkable water,” says Saumya Roy, Founder and CEO, Vandana Foundation.
Right now Vandana Foundation has installed just two water ATMs (one is Delhi and the other in Mumbai) but the organization is targeting to install 100 water ATMs by the end of the coming year.The water is sourced from the Municipal Corporation, which is not safe for drinking. This water is then treated with various chemicals and other scientific procedures to make it fit for drinking.
“The treatment is customized according to the location and the quality of water. A number of factors, like demographics, quality of water, are taken into considerations before we decide the treatment,” says Subramanya Kusnur, Chairman and CEO of Aquakraft Projects Pvt Limited.
The treatment is modified according to the weather as well. For instance, bacteria is particularly high during rainy season so the treatment is changed accordingly. The groundwater is harder during summers so again the treatment changes to make the water drinkable.In the end the water is of the same quality as bottled water available in the market, claims Kusnur. The entire project involved one and a half years of research. It costs around Rs 3 lakh (£ 3046) to set up one water ATM. Besides the technical knowhow the project involves dealing with the government bodies and regular monitoring and testing of the water.
“One water ATM involves Rs 50,000 to Rs 70,000 per year for maintenance and management. Key challenge for us is to procure sponsorship for initial capital. We work with Vandana Foundation which is working in area of micro finance to identify the locations and also help in the management of the water ATMs,” explains Kusnur.
To make the project sustainable and inclusive, Vandana Foundation decided to involve the local community.“It [water ATM] is managed by a local person. For instance, Irshad Bano manages the water ATM in Mumbai. For every liter of water sold, she gets 30 paise. It is her job to spread the word about the water ATM and operate it. Sometimes she also puts up a small stall next to water ATM to make additional money,” says Roy.
About 700 to 750 liter of water is sold everyday per ATM. A number of enhancements are being planned for the next version of water ATMs. “We would be coming out with the next version of water ATM soon. This will offer a marked improvement over the present version. Right now the water is dispensed in quantities of 1 litre only but in the next version it would be available in glass as well. Cold water would also be available in the next version,” says Kusnur.
The unique concept of water ATMs is emerging as a solution to providing clean drinking water in resettlement colonies which do not get piped water. Water to these colonies is generally supplied by tankers by Municipal Corporation. Water ATMs are likely to used to supply clean drinking water in these areas.