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Safe drinking water for the rural poor

People in the villages in Warangal and Adilabad of Andhra Pradesh, south India, have been suffering from chronic joint pains. They moved about slowly and painfully and some were anaemic. This was the outer manifestation of fluorosis. It is caused by excess fluoride in the water. It plagues a number of districts in India and is found in the groundwater. Till now, people had little choice but to drink this water. But hope is now at hand.

In August 2007, a small beginning was made. World Vision invited Eureka Forbes, India’s pioneer in water purification systems, to set up a customized plant at Manikyapuram, a hamlet consisting of 221 families (1300 people), 85km from Hyderabad. This plant was set up after studying the groundwater contaminants. With fluoride being the major culprit, there had to be a Reverse Osmosis system.

Says Yadhamma, leader of the Mahila Mandal (women’s committee), “Within 10 days of drinking this pure water my aches and pains just disappeared.” This is the experience echoed by other members of the hamlet too.

What happened at Manikyapuram is now being replicated across the country by Eureka Forbes. Eureka Forbes has set up a separate channel whose mission is driven by the vision ‘to provide pure and safe drinking water to every Indian’.

The manner of execution of this vision is interesting. Eureka Forbes joins hands with NGOs like World Vision, which enjoy the community’s trust. Funds are partly raised by the community, partly funded by the NGO and there is the involvement of the Panchayat (local self-government) through provision of land, building or subsidized electricity. It is a partnership in action. The objective is BOT (Build, Operate, Transfer). Over time, the ownership of the plant will pass on to the hands of the community.

“Access to water is one of our national priorities,” said Franklin Joseph, Director, Humanitarian Emergency Affairs, World Vision India. “We started off with pilot units in Andhra Pradesh to learn from our experience of working together.” World Vision has been working towards community development in these mandals (village blocks) for over 10 years. Their community development co-ordinators had formed self-help groups in the villages. The group, led by Yadhamma from Manikyapuram, took the initiative of providing safe drinking water to their village. This was supported by the Sarpanch (head) of the village, Narasaiah. World Vision played a key role in uniting Eureka Forbes and the community in the obtaining safe drinking water.

Water sampling was done, followed by testing, analysis of the sources, consumption patterns, number of proposed beneficiaries and electricity availability. Upon assessment of all the factors, the company proposed an RO plant of 250lph (litres per hour) capacity. This proposal was cleared by World Vision which was funding a major portion. The rest of the funds were put in by the self-help group and the Village Panchayat.

The people of Manikyapuram are now free from water-borne diseases. “We knew that water was a basic right for all, but getting clean water by our own effort is a big achievement. We think of this purification plant as the community’s asset,” said Yadhamma proudly.

The unique feature of this ‘public-private partnership model’ is that the self-help group will purchase the customised water purification equipment, facilitated by World Vision through micro-loans. The loans will be paid back over a period of time with money collected from consumers of the clean water. The capacity of the plants vary from 200llph to 500 lphor 600lph.

The partnership is aimed at developing comprehensive water purification products and solutions portfolios for the rural poor as laid out in the memorandum between World Vision India and Eureka Forbes.“We are motivated to move even more rapidly when we come across heartwarming stories of how a community’s health and well being have improved merely by this small intervention,” said Aslam Karmali, CEO, Customer Division, Eureka Forbes.

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