Solar powered “Water ATMs” for India slums

20 Sep

What would you say if I told you that somewhere in the world you could access clean water via an ATM? Crazy right? Well it isn’t as crazy as you may think. “Water ATMs” that are smart solar powered devices have become a rising source of clean water for rural villagers in India. The plan is to take the ATM invention and expand its services into India’s urban slums where women and girls usually spend hours waiting for tanker trucks to deliver fresh, drinkable water.

The network of “Water ATMs” has been built by the Sarvajal organisation and is currently serving 110,000 rural customers in India. The targeted regions are the places in which residents don’t have the option of turning on the tap to receive fresh water, and many businesses don’t deliver to those areas. With the “Water ATM” customers just swipe a prepaid smart card at the ATM to collect their water. The ATMs are owned and managed by local franchisee entrepreneurs and the devices have some 25 sensors, which manage and monitor water pressure and filtration, and make maintenance and repair of the systems low cost and easy.

With the “Water ATM” being a smart solar powered device, it can do more than simply dispense water. By using mobile phones they are able to monitor the ATM’s sensors which allows Sarvajal to check water quality, establish peak water dispense times and fix any problems that come up.

At present Sarvajal is still losing money but founder Anand Shah believes the organisation needs about 800 franchisees to break even, compared to the current 35 installed. They have already seen a steady growth from serving 60,000 people in 2011 to reaching 110,000 people in 2013.

A big question for Shah would be will residents of the slums be willing to pay for the luxury of buying water quickly and easily. At present the price works out at less than £1.87 per month per family. Though the price is low, many residents have been getting water free from the government albeit at the expense of time waiting around.

The “Water ATMs” have even changed social behaviours in the villages. Before now, women and girls only would take on the water collection duties but now men have become increasingly eager to collect water from the ATMs to show their earning power. The smart card to access the ATM is seen as something to be proud of…and rightly so.



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