An excellent chat with Aamir Khan on the seeds of a water revolution in the making :
Paani Foundation is a not-for-profit company set up in 2016 by the team of the TV series Satyamev Jayate to fight drought in rural Maharashtra. Water scarcity is largely a man-made condition, and we believe that only people’s efforts can solve the crisis. Paani Foundation aims to harness the power of communication to mobilise, motivate and train people in this mission to eradicate drought. Offering training in scientific watershed management, leadership and community-building, Paani Foundation is now working in roughly 90% of drought-hit Maharashtra. Our flagship project, the Satyamev Jayate Water Cup was instituted in 2016 as a way to encourage villages to apply their training in watershed management. Water Cup 2018 will be held from 8th April to 22nd May 2018.
Desalination plants in Nemmeli and Minjur -with a capacity to produce 100 million litres of water per day (mld) each -are now the city’s lifelines with traditional sources drying up. Chennai is almost entirely dependent on the monsoon for its water supply, the failure of which puts the city in a tight spot.
Combined storage level in the four reservoirs that cater to Chennai stands at 3% against their total capacity. The supply of Krishna river water from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh under the Telugu Ganga project has been suspended for more than two months now. Chennai’s nodal agency for water distribution, CMWSSB, has been coercing farmers in neighbouring districts to sell Chennai their water.Officials are also trying to sourcing water from stone quarries 23km from the city .
In all this, it is the treated seawater -that normally is an option in regions with no rains or other water sources -that meet the city’s demand for water. But senior officials doubt the sustainability of the desalination projects.Apart from environmental concerns, sourcing water thus is expensive. At present, CMWSSB pays Rs 60 per kilo litre for the water from Minjur, up from Rs 48 per kilolitre that it paid when the facility began operating in 2010. This works out to Rs 60 lakh for 100 mld of water. Water from the Nemmeli plant costs around Rs 30 per kilolitre. “We’re able to do this because the state is rich. I don’t know if it’s feasible in other states,” a senior official said. Voltage fluctuations and adverse weather are a serious challenge too in operating the plants and hike the costs. But this has not deterred the state from proposing two new plants, of 150 mld and 400 mld capacity in Perur, close to Nemmeli.
At present, TN accounts for 24% of the total desalinated water capacity in India, second only to Gujarat. Experts meanwhile describe desalination as a “last option”.S Janakarajan, professor at Madras Institute of Development Studies, says that seawater desalination was conceived for rich, rain-starved countries like those in West Asia. “Chennai’s average annual rainfall is well over 1,200 mm. It should ideally be the last resort which, in this case, is not,” Janakarajan said. With scant supply , water distribution is charted out daily by the CMWSSB.”Our planning [daily distribution] hinges on how much water the desalination plants supply ,” Arun Roy , managing director of CMWSSB, said.
On average, the two plants churn out around 180 mld of the 470 mld CMWSSB now supplies, against Chennai’s demand of 1,300-1,400 mld.The plant in Minjur caters to industries and a few localities in north Chennai, while the Nemmeli plant caters to nearly 13-15 lakh residents in south Chennai, which is also house to the city’s IT hub.
Ayyappa Masagi has a simple message: “You want water? Call me!” Thousands have. And his phone rings dozens of times a day. There appears to be an endless supply of patients for the man nicknamed India’s “Water Doctor”. “I faced a lot of water problems in my childhood,” he said. “I used to go at 3am to fetch water from the stream. So I made an oath that when I grew up I would find a solution. So I quit my job as a mechanical engineer in 2002 to solve India’s water problem,” Ayyappa told BBC.
India is enduring a catastrophic water crisis. About 330 million people are suffering water shortages after the failure of the last two monsoons. Reservoirs are dry. Farmers have committed suicide. Thousands of drought-stricken villagers have flocked to cities, desperate for water, praying for rain. According to Ayyappa’s calculations, if just 30 per cent of India’s rainwater were captured and stored, “one year’s rain would sustain the nation for three years.”
To prove it, in 2014 Ayyappa bought 84 acres of barren land near Chilamathur, a famously drought-prone region of Andhra Pradesh, 110km northeast of Bangalore. “The wind here was like a firewind. I told my partners, ‘Within one year I will make this land a water bowl.’” Today, a network of 25,000 sand-filled pits and four new lakes capture and store any rainwater that falls here. No drop is allowed to escape into rivers and run off to the sea. It stays on and in the land, keeping the subsoil charged with water which, when needed, is drawn from five shallow bore-wells.
The topsoil from digging out the lakes has helped level the land, which has been planted with trees and crops. Roughly 60 per cent of the trees will form dense forest, while 40 per cent will be fruit trees to generate income. Grains and vegetables have also been planted, and next year there will be a dairy here too. The plan is to make this a sustainable organic farm, totally self-sufficient for all its water needs.
Through his Water Literacy Foundation, Ayyappa is training “water warriors” to spread his message. He’s already written seven books and trained more than 100 interns from India and abroad, including Germany, Japan and the US. “If you only talk, nothing will happen. You have to do something and prove it. Governments are coming forward to take up my service, replicating my model. Once the community attitude changes, our political attitudes change, we can replicate this concept throughout the world.” Earlier, in 2013, Yourstory had published a story on Ayyappa.
Because pure water represents the bedrock on which all health care delivery is based.When you think of it, there are so many instances of places where water the pure and drinking kind should be available but isn’t. And that is how Piramal Sarvajal was conceived, around the terribly ambitious programme to provide universal potable water for all in 2008.The programme was timed not a day too soon.The more you think of it, the lack of access to potable water is the genesis of a number of modern day issues. In areas where pure water is not easily accessible, there is a question mark over food quality. In areas where water is not an arm’s length away, the one assigned to fetch it is usually the woman of the family (translating into the other problem of economic inequity and disempowerment). In areas where potable water is infrequently supplied, there is high medical expenditure with lower month-end surpluses available for reinvestment.In areas where water availability is low, the neighbourhood squabbles (over whose bucket should gain precedence) are high.These are some of the things I like about Piramal Sarvajal.
One, the programme does not profess that it knows all the answers; it partners with local entrepreneurs, corporations supporting social projects, the government and philanthropic organisations to provide local solutions (pun!). The result is that partners provide funding, while Piramal Sarvajal deploys decentralised units based on parameters like population density and local water quality.One comes with the cash, the other comes with knowledge, kickstarting implementation.
Two, the programme addresses the dearth of water not where it is most convenient, such as underserved urban pockets; instead it addresses villages, slums, schools, hospitals and public spaces.
Three, the programme has achieved some scale; it commissioned community drinking water solutions in more than 200 villages in partnership with local entrepreneurs, corporate donors and gram panchayat.
Four, the programme addresses purification in pockets where water is available; it commissioned sponsor-funded purification units in more than 70 schools (Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana and Karnataka).
Five, the programme has progressively extended to deficient urban public places, working with the government in selected resettlement areas around New Delhi where piped drinking water is simply not available and where residents are completely dependent on tankers; the result is a hub-and-spoke driven 24×7 access to safe drinking water.
Six, this is not a free hand-down; users are educated on the payback benefits of safe water access and then charged; the water revenue covers operational costs, making it possible for donor-sponsored locations to sell water for as low as 20 paise per litre (our packaged branded equivalent is available for Rs 20 per litre).
Seven, Piramal Sarvajal pioneered the remote monitoring of water purification machines and the concept of a water ATM. Through the combination of these technologies, Sarvajal not only maintains the machine and water quality but also ensures maximum uptime with the help of solarpowered water ATMs, ensuring 24×7 safe water availability regardless of power availability.
Eight, Piramal Sarvajal has commissioned a service centre to provide maintenance and community level marketing services every 20-30 units, ensuring that high uptime is not compromised by the repair technician turning up after a fortnight.
Nine, the patented technology was developed in-house; besides, the programme has emerged as a livelihood driver for about 1,000 individuals through Piramal Sarvajal water network, who earn more than their average local incomes.
The numbers are remarkable: the programme serves approximately 300,000 consumers each day through 500 plus installations across13 states.
The effect has been even more remarkable.Laxmi Devi of Laxmangarh village in Rajasthan gets 40 litres of water every day for her household of seven. Her verdict: “The present has put the power in our hands in the form of an ATM card.“
Arthritic 50-year-old Khurshid Bano of Jhunjhunu (Rajasthan) has a lot to thank Sarvajal for.The district suffers high fluoride levels in water, causing fluorosis and joint pains, weakened bones and yellowed teeth. Ever since she subscribed to Sarvajal, her pain has subsided and she saves Rs 1,500 of what was earlier being spent in medication costs each month.
Housewife Kavitaji (200 m from Sarvajal’s office in Sawda Ghevra JJ Colony) feels Sarvajal has been a life-changer. Her seven month daughter encountered severe diarrhoea resulting in a Rs 5,000 hospital bill. When the doctor wrote out a prescription, he scribbled `Sarvajal’. Kavitaji started buying 15 litres a day for the family. The family health improved; the housewife turned evangelist and convinced 11 families in the neighbourhood to subscribe as well, renaming her bylane as `Sarvajal gali.’ If only Piramal Sarvajal could take this concept to other corporations to fund drinking water unit in their own neighbourhoods…