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Swiping for Change with Clean Water


One of the fundamental necessities in life – water – is hard to come by for millions of Indians today. Whether slums or the rural hinterlands, or even cities affected by lack of water owing to a paucity in annual monsoon, many cities, towns and villages in India have recently been suffering from strained water resources.

The problem is compounded by the unaffordability of water for the marginalized sections of society. Whether they may be villagers trudging several kilometres to fill their buckets with water, or slum dwellers queuing up to get a bucketful, people pay large sums of money for small supplies of water – which is often contaminated and sourced dubiously. Most of the water received from tankers and private contractors is rife with disease-causing germs and visible impurities. Naturally, waterborne diseases are rampant.

Many Chennai villages, too, faced this grim situation. However, now, two locations – Singaperumalkoil and Veerapuram – receive clean drinking water at affordable rates, thanks to the pioneering efforts of BASF and Waterlife and its concept of ‘Water ATM’- A water revolution via ATMs.

In 2014, a need assessment study was conducted in these two locations to identify access to clean drinking water. The source water supply was found to be less than satisfactory on at least 50% of the parameters. TDS and hardness of the water were of concern. The baseline study in the village of Singaperumal Koil showed a high incidence of typical water borne diseases like dysentery, diarrhoea, typhoid and jaundice. Consequently, there was a high rate of absenteeism from work. Piped water supply was limited and 74% of the households were buying water in jars and cans by paying as much as Rs. 35 for a 20-litre can of water that was often rife with germs and dirt

At this juncture, BASF and Waterlife, a social enterprise that builds and operates Water ATMs, took the initiative to speak to the village panchayat and ask for a plot of land at Singaperumalkoil, where a water treatment facility could be built. The land was duly procured, and BASF partnered with Waterlife and the local village panchayat to bring this project to reality. Some of the many advantages of the treatment system includes complete removal of germs, bacteria, viruses and all types of suspended solids. The price for a 20-litre can of treated and clean drinking water works out to be just Rs 7. The buyer merely has to swipe a pre-paid water card and fill the container with 20 litres of water. Thus, the residents of Singaperumalkoil got clean drinking water for the very first time in decades, at an unbelievably affordable price.

The success of the Singaperumalkoil water ATM spurred BASF and Waterlife to replicate the project at Veerapuram, where the second such water ATM was inaugurated in September 2016 and this time using BASF’s own ultra-filtration technology Inge® membrane. These two water ATMS collectively process up to 24,000 litres of water every day with the help of new technologies such as inge® ultrafiltration to treat the water to the highest standards of purity. The project is monitored monthly through quality audits and water tests conducted by independent labs

There has been a significant reduction in the number of water based ailments in the 2 villages and has resulted in 90% reduction in water-borne diseases in the area. As both projects are operated by the community, they provide employment opportunities to local villagers. BASF reinvests the proceeds from the sale of water: of the Rs. 7 paid per can of water, Rs 6. is paid back for operationalizing the water plants and Re. 1 is paid to the local panchayat for community development. The two plants have a registered membership of 1466 households. The cumulative consumption of water has been 4.2 million litres till January 2017!

With these projects, BASF proved that technology and chemistry have the potential to effect ground-breaking change to solve the problems that plague humanity. BASF and Waterlife has also been conducting extensive awareness programmes to educate the local communities on the importance of health and clean drinking water.

1.      Results:

  • From March 2015 to January 2019, more than 3,300 households in Chennai have registered for the water ATMs, consuming over 12.36 million liters of clean drinking water
  • Since May 2018, water ATMs from BASF in Chengalpattu have supplied over 1.4 million liters of clean, safe drinking water to approximately 1,000 community households
  • The BASF team has also contributed to offering similar water ATMs for communities in Singaperumal Koli, Veerapuram, and Maraimalai Nagar making five water ATMs available for communities in Chennai

2.      Broader  Impact:

  • A lack of potable drinking water, clean sanitation facilities were the biggest challenges according to the need assessment study at our sites and adjoining communities.
  • This required implementation of solutions along with detailed behavior change programs and this became a major driver of change. Post our programs at the local sites, incidence of water borne diseases dropped as per discussions and feedback from the local community
  • Led to positive impact on the communities and children as school retention rate increased with lesser absenteeism (lesser onset of water-borne diseases & BASF’s behavioural change programs that discouraged open defecation)

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