- Clean Water is provided at Rs. 5 per 20 litres at the water ATMs
- Safe water is the biggest welfare measure: District Official
- Water ATMs under Safe Water Networks operate 24X7
New Delhi: “In a country where a large number of people face difficulty in accessing clean water, especially in the hotter parts, it is necessary to find solutions that can help people get clean water at affordable prices,” said 28-year-old Somarathi Sindhuja, a citizen of Warangal, Telangana who has been working for the last five years towards raising awareness about clean water among people, especially in the slum areas. Ms. Sindhuja, who has been associated with a Delhi based non-governmental organisation Safe Water Network that has been working on providing access to clean water to communities for over 10 years, is also operating a 24X7 automatic water station where she gives water to people at Rs. 5 per 20 litres. According to her, even today, there are many people who are not aware about the importance of using clean water because of which they will never invest their time, energy or money in it. The issue is so severe that it impacts the communities’ health and is affecting the overall quality of life and therefore initiatives that involve taking clean and affordable water to them are very important, she said.
Ms. Sindhuja had also faced a challenge in getting pure water for many years until a safe water kiosk called ‘iJal water ATM’ was set up in her community. She said that earlier, she along with other women in her community had to fetch water from borewells and tube wells which used to be a tedious process. When Safe Water Network visited her community as part of their awareness building and mobilisation activity, Ms. Sindhuja got to know about water ATMs and how these can not only help her motivate other people in her community to consume clean water but can also help her earn some livelihood. Like Ms. Sindhuja, there are many other women and men who are now working as water entrepreneurs under the Safe Water Network. While talking to NDTV, Vijay Lakshmi, another water entrepreneur said,
The quality of water is very good and the price is affordable. The initiative has helped in addressing the problem of water scarcity in our area. To encourage people to collect clean water from the water ATM, I go door-to-door to explain to them about why safe water is essential to our health. There were a lot of women in my community who suffered frequent stomach aches but since they have switched to drinking clean water, their stomach problems are no longer troubling them.
According to Poonam Sewak, Vice President, Safe Water Network, the NGO has installed over 300 water stations in the states of Telangana, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. She said,
The underground water that the large population of our country is dependent on has high contaminations. Arsenic, fluoride, chromium, and lead are some of the metals found in large quantities in underground water and the surface water has microbial contamination. The quality of water offered though the water stations conforms to the national drinking water norms. The raw water for these kiosks is provided by the local municipal bodies.
Ms. Sewak said that in South India, people have mostly become aware about water, however, the states in Northern India still need to be sensitised. While talking about the revenue generated from the water kiosks, Ms. Sewak said that on an average, about Rs. 12,000- 15,000 is generated at each water ATM. Out of this about Rs. 2,000 goes into the maintenance of the water station and the rest is considered as the income of the water kiosk operator. She said that on average about 250-300 people collect water from each water ATM daily. She added that while all the operators are trained in handling small wear and tear, the NGO provides assistance within 24 hours whenever required.
The NGO works through a model where it engages a donor for sponsoring water station clusters. While talking about the need to invest in projects facilitating people’s access to clean water, Pooja Thakran, Senior Director – Corporate Communication, Honeywell, a private company, which is one of the largest donors in Safe Water Network initiative said,
Honeywell is committed to transformation development initiatives that improve the lives of people in the communities we serve. Water is one such important area of focus. We have modelled this initiative with a unique proposition of complementing it through women empowerment by making them frontrunners in offering clean drinking water to the community. This program has helped us in multiple efforts from offering clean drinking water, to safeguarding the health of communities and raising the social and financial conditions of women in the communities.
The iJal safe water kiosks have proven to be a blessing during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic because these provide clean water for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene like handwashing. Along with the Safe Water Network, there are several other organisations that have formed a collective called the Small Water Enterprise Alliance (SWEA) which is striving to provide safe water in over 20 states and Union Territories, considering how important this is in the fight against the transmission of COVID-19. Ms. Sewak shared that during the pandemic, the subscription to safe water kiosks has increased by more than 10 per cent. She said that all COVID-19 prevention protocols are being followed at these water ATMs like physical distancing, mask-wearing and hygiene.
39-year-old Sumitra, who along with her family of four, regularly consumes water from a water ATM in Warangal, said that having access to affordable and clean water has made a big difference in her life. She said,
It is easier to get clean water from iJal. Earlier, I had to wait in long queues at the community hand pump. The whole process used to take at least one hour and even though the water quality was not good since it was the groundwater, we had no choice but to depend on it most of the time. The other option we had was to buy clean water which was not practical for us as each can costs about Rs. 20 which makes it unaffordable in the long run. Thanks to the Safe Water Network’s initiative, now I go to the water ATM with my husband on his motorcycle with some containers and get 20 litres of clean water at low cost without any hassle.
According to Rajeshwar Rao, Mandal Revenue Officer, Medak District, Telangana, the water ATM initiative has been playing an important role. He informed that the district has 40 iJal safe water treatment plants that are providing safe water access to about 1,20,000 people. He said,
Safe water is the biggest welfare measure. It does a lot more than quenching thirst; it is the promise of good health. iJal safe water treatment plants are affordable sources of safe drinking water especially as this belt has the problem of fluorosis caused by fluoride contamination. Moreover, these iJal plants are operated by our local women self-help group and give them livelihood.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.