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Scaling innovation in clean drinking water for rural India

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If India is to achieve its goal of supplying water to 90% of rural households by 2022, then scaling water interventions is paramount.
However, the dominant technologies currently in use may not be fully adequate to provide holistic water solutions in rural areas. The prime concern is around wastage of water in some technologies that make them unviable in water scarce areas. Many products also filter out essential minerals from water, along with the contaminants. Some purification plants require constant electricity supply, which is intermittent at best in rural areas.
How does one address the challenge of providing clean and safe drinking water to rural India at scale in context of poor electricity supply, water sustainability and limited incomes of the rural communities?

The technology

Samhita’s report: Investing in Water: For Today and the Future cites the example of the Livinguard technology, which is developed and patented by Sanjeev Swamy. At the heart of technology is a reusable fabric that acts as a disinfectant, killing harmful bacteria and viruses via a mechanical kill action as opposed to conventional chemical killing methods, making microbial resistance nearly impossible.
It has many commercial applications, from sportswear to anti-bacterial wipes to AC filters to sanitary napkins. But what piqued ad guru and philanthropist Ashok Kurien’s interest was its use to purify water in a manner that utilizes zero electricity and chemicals and results in very little water wastage and retains the naturally occurring minerals, which could provide a ‘magic bullet’ to solve the clean drinking water crisis in villages.
The strategy is to place purification units in public places, such as markets, schools, railway stations, hospitals, so as to maximize their usage. Each plant comes with a five-year maintenance contract, wherein an engineer visits the plant every three months. In certain locations, community members such as sarpanch, headmaster etc. are also trained to handle common trouble shooting issues.
In terms of affordability, the Livinguard model operates free of cost for the communities for a period of three to five years, which is the critical habit-forming phase, after which it gradually transitions to a minimal user fee model to achieve sustainability and make the users value water.

The partnerships

Livinguard has successfully leveraged CSR for scaling its operations to 1,300 community water filter plants.
One of the largest partnerships has been with YES BANK wherein they collaborated to provide free drinking water at 1,000 ‘D’ and ‘E’ category railway stations by 2019. The team reached out to YES BANK when they started operations in India as part of their outreach strategy for corporates.
The partnership process included requisite due diligence on YES BANK’s part, site visits to understand the technology better and a pilot programme before any decision for scale up was taken. While the brand has provided the technological infrastructure and operational assistance for the programme, YES BANK has backed the capital costs for project infrastructure and operations.

Livinguard

YES BANK has also collaborated with Livinguard and the Delhi Jal Board to provide Water ATMs in and around the Jhuggi Jhopri clusters of Delhi. The partnership has successfully provided access to safe and clean drinking water to more than 13 million people.

Collaborations through NGOs

Another model of partnership that has emerged is via collaborations through NGOs that are embedded in local community, so as to factor in the ‘softer’ aspects such as community mobilization, behaviour change and sustainability. The brand’s partnership with SBI Mutual Fund started when Ashok Kurien compared the model to the traditional Indian practice of offering clean drinking water as a community service to any passerby in villages.
Livinguard partnered with Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR) to provide clean drinking water for community members in 14 locations in Maharashtra. It leveraged its technical expertise, the community mobilization competencies of WOTR and the financial support of SBI MF in a win-win situation for all, as indicated by the feedback collected by Samhita from communities in these villages.

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The CSR Journal Team

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