On International Women’s Day March 8, 2022, Safe Water Network, the internationally renowned NGO, held a virtual roundtable to present its insights on how water ATMs are not only providing affordable, safe water access but are leveraged as ‘Water Knowledge Resource Centres’ having a lighthouse effect on Women Empowerment.
The panelists at the session included Ms. D. Thara, (IAS), Additional Secretary, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs; Karen Klimowski, Deputy Mission Director, USAID, INDIA; Dr. Parag Agarwal, Founder & CEO, JanaJal; Minhaj Chowdhury, CEO & Co-founder, Drinkwell Systems; Madhu Krishnamoorthy, Assistant Vice President, Business Development, WaterHealth India; Arti Verma, CSR Business Lead, Waterlife India; Abhijeet Gaan, Director, and CEO, Rite Water Solutions and Poonam Sewak, Vice President, Programs & Partnerships, Safe Water Network India.
The informative session highlighted how Water Knowledge Resource Centres (WKRCs) under Project SEWAH (Sustainable Enterprises for Water & Health) of USAID and Safe Water Network have become pivotal in encouraging economic empowerment of local women at the grassroots level. The WKRCs have transformed into an education tool advocating inclusive and equitable water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) practices benefitting communities to improve public health, especially the lives of women and girl children. The WKRCs also connect and educate the local community about various Government initiatives in the water sector and policies such as water conservation, non-revenue water reduction, rainwater harvesting, and national campaigns like Clean India, Pey Jal Survekshan, etc.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the women operating the Water ATMs leveraged it to WKRCs, became community mobilizers, and generated awareness by amplifying the government guidelines on Covid care and protocol. They also educated the masses about using the COWIN app for vaccination.
Jal Shakti Kendras at the WKRCs linked the community to the Municipality Water Board, PHED, to promote rainwater harvesting and convert their water ATM site for water conservation. Giving impetus to the Government’s vision of safe water, 110 active female self-help group (SGH) members have been trained in using field test kits for water quality testing.
Accelerating women empowerment movement, Safe Water Network, in partnership with SEWAH alliance partners, has scaled up the initiative across 11 states and 24 cities in India.
D. Thara, IAS, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, MoHUA, said, “Women are at the center of the water. It is profusely gratifying to see how women at the grassroots level are increasingly becoming aware of economic empowerment and the importance of consuming safe water. The easy access to safe water is helping several women pursue a variety of micro-enterprises to earn their daily wages. The national program AMRUT 2.0 encourages women to participate actively in becoming water entrepreneurs.”
Karen Klimowski, Deputy Mission Director, USAID, said, “At USAID, we believe gender equality is essential to transforming communities and countries. Access to water, sanitation, and hygiene facilities is essential to ensure gender equality in maternal and newborn health, school attendance, and economic progress. When it comes to community-level water and sanitation systems, women often play a role as change makers. USAID is proud to partner with the Safe Water Network and the SEWAH Alliance to transform the lives of women through investments in the WASH sector, which has demonstrated a successful model whereby small water enterprises can help to deliver safe water for underserved communities, while also providing entrepreneurship and income opportunities for women.”
Poonam Sewak, Vice President – Program & Partnerships, Safe Water Network India, said, “At Safe Water Network India, women empowerment is at the heart of every conversation and community project that we undertake. Along with the USAID supported-SEWAH program, we have been training women as Water ATM Plant Operators and Community Mobilisers. These women, 548 as Water ATM operators and 152 Water ATM women entrepreneurs, now manage their water stores and disseminate WASH education to the local community. They earn about INR 3,200 per month from the water sale revenue. These Water ATMs have become pivots around which women are setting up even small microenterprises like street food and Chai stalls to help people earn their daily wage.”
The WASH activities majorly benefit women in urban slums and communities around WKRC, empowering them economically and socially. Affordable, 24×7 availability of clean drinking water and frequent conversations around merits of safe water has also benefitted the community of truck drivers who are a valuable part of our consumer base and are carrying WASH education back to their communities.”
Minhaj Chowdhury, CEO & Co-founder, Drinkwell Systems, said, “One of the key initiatives that Water Knowledge Resource Centers supported is Rainwater Harvesting. The Jal Shakti Helpline has been established to connect the community with the municipality to assist rooftop rainwater harvesting. This will help citizens to conserve water for difficult times.”
Madhu Krishnamoorthy, AVP-Business Development, Water Health India, said, “We are at a point in time where pollution due to plastics is burgeoning beyond control. The Water Knowledge Resource Centers are playing a pivotal role in encouraging women to collect their daily requirement of water in reusable containers, thereby reducing the use of single-use plastic and contributing to a cleaner and greener planet.”
Arti Verma, CSR Business Lead, Waterlife India, said, “During the second wave of Covid-19, women played a crucial role by providing 24×7 access to safe water, educating locals the use of COWIN app for vaccination, creating awareness around Covid protocols and the benefits of WASH practices. Vaccine support drives were especially run to support low-income communities in accessing health resources during the Covid wave at the local primary health center.”
Abhijeet Gaan, Director & CEO, Rite Water Solutions, said, “Water Knowledge Resource Centers is a revolutionary movement not only to empower women to build their future but also engages citizen engagement to encourage hygiene practices.”
Naveen Mathur, CEO, Maithri Aquatech, said “As a member of SEWAH Alliance, we have empowered the beneficiaries, especially women who access our Water Knowledge Resource Centre (WKRC) in the smart city of Vizag, with safe affordable safe water access and WASH education along with the municipality and the YMCA youth.”
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