India’s ‘water aunties’ show way to better life
   Date :11-Sep-2019

 
By Shakoor Rather :
 
The water station called iJal treats groundwater from borewells contaminated with high fluoride to make it fit for human consumption. Twenty litres of treated water is priced at Rs 5.
 
 
STOCKHOLM COMBINING community health with women’s empowerment, small water enterprises are making giant leaps in addressing the potable water needs of more than a million people in India’s villages at minimal cost. “Water aunties” and thousands of others are the agents of change working through SWEs, which minimise the cost of treating water to just a few rupees and require modest investment, to help improve the health outlook of many in rural India.
 
Their role in effecting transformation was spotlighted at the recent World Water Week organised by Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) here. “General health has improved in my village in Warangal. Everybody in the village now calls me Water Aunty,” Cherra Padmaja told PTI over the phone. Her remarkable story from faraway Warangal in southern India found wide resonance in this European capital. In what villagers in Rangasaipet, a remote village in Telangana’s Warangal district, described as an “epidemic”, it is common for children to develop mottled teeth and adults skeletal deformities.
 
The reason: the groundwater is contaminated with high fluoride. In 2016, Padmaja, now 39, fed up of her family members falling sick ever so often decided to change her village’s fortunes. With the help of non-profit registered trust Safe Water Network, Padmaja set up a safe water dispensing station to provide affordable and treated drinking water to 5,000-odd residents. The water station called iJal treats groundwater from borewells to make it fit for human consumption. Twenty litres of treated water is priced at Rs 5. Padmaja’s day goes in taking care of the station. She fills the treated water tank in the morning and evening hours when there is power.
 
The system is equipped with a remote monitoring system to send automatic alarms and alerts every 15 minutes about the quality of the water. Since 2010, Safe Water Network has facilitated 300 SWEs or iJal Stations in Uttar Pradesh, Telangana and Maharashtra. The SWEs provide access to safe drinking water for over a million people in India with the annual dispensed water level being 290 million litres, said Pooja Singh, head of Monitoring and Evaluation at Safe Water Network.
 
Talking to PTI on the sidelines of the World Water Week, she claimed that people have reported better health, reduction in medical expenses, decline in children and elders falling sick and reduction in school absenteeism in areas where iJal stations were set up. She explained that all SWEs are locally-operated and managed under different operating models: Entrepreneur, Safe Water Committees and Self-Help Groups. Singh said that their focus is to recruit women for different positions in the iJal supply chain. “The field-validated water model offers a strong value proposition that can be leveraged to increase women’s empowerment leading to positive individual and collective impact, by engaging them into more meaningful, decision-making roles as water entrepreneurs or managers than merely being water carriers,” said Singh.