Aquakraft's 'Swachhagraha' movement ensures clean drinking water, safe sanitation

Aquakraft's 'Swachhagraha' movement ensures clean drinking water, safe sanitation

By Subramanya Kusnur | MUMBAI | 25 September, 2017

Sometime in 2002, a close friend of mine, Dr Vulimiri Jagdish, former Senior Public Health Specialist from the World Bank, introduced me to Dr Timothy Badger from Boston, USA, who had patents in water filtration technologies. Dr Badger was very passionate about doing work in India and wanted a partner. It was then that I introduced him to a very eminent scientist in India who told me that the technology was a "magic wand" and provided answer to water contamination problems in India. This encouraged me to support Dr Badger's efforts and helped him get some business by introducing him to prospective partners. Unfortunately, the partnerships did not work out and resulted in a huge financial loss to Dr Badger. But despite that, he wanted to continue his efforts of solving the water problem issue in India. This inspired me immensely and this is when I left a successful corporate career and started Aquakraft Projects Pvt. Ltd., in July 2010 with a focus to provide clean drinking water and sanitation to one and all.

Rampant drilling of borewells have depleted the ground water levels to dramatic proportions and as a result, many parts of India have an endemic problem of Fluoride and Arsenic contamination in ground water. As much of 80% of India receives its drinking water

from the ground and contamination poses a serious health risk. The striking feature of our technology that addressed these contaminants in a green way is that it does not require power, which is one of the critical components of sustainable water treatment solutions. Unlike Reverse Osmosis, it does not waste any water and treats 100% of the water and also there is no sludge. Also, it did not require much maintenance. In fact, the local village personnel were able to monitor and maintain the system without much ado. This buoyed my confidence and conviction and I set out to promote the same.

Armed with a "magic wand", I travelled extensively across the length and breadth of India and while doing so, was alarmed to see that drinking water interventions have a very low rate of sustainability. One of the main factors was the lack of electricity, which was the most critical component for the operation of an RO system. More often than not, the membrane used for filtration in the RO process turned out to be the main source of contamination. Apart from that, rampant pulling of water from the ground depleted the water table, increasing the contaminant profile of the ground water itself. Therefore, the economic value invested in such interventions eventually gets eroded which has a direct impact on public health and effectively the GDP.

Then started the journey of the advocacy of this technology among opinion and decision makers. This was very challenging as there normally is resistance to change. Here I had two options, either embrace the accepted technology that was RO and make a fortune or continue to promote and support a green technology that conserves the most precious commodity, WATER. My innate conscious made me naturally choose the latter and that is how a next generation social entrepreneur was born who aimed at innovating sustainable socio-economic models like the aquatm–Water ATM & aquato–access based bio toilets using green technologies. The road ahead was no less challenging and was full of uncertainties, frustrations, reluctance to change with lack of awareness and advocacy being the key factor. This is when I realised that the rural population, though very smart and intelligent, does not have access to information and best practices and is not ready to embrace change so easily. At the same time, there was no one who subscribed to the idea of funding an advocacy programme. With limited resources, I set out to do the same and in the journey, met some incompatible investors who pulled down the momentum dramatically and exposed me to unlimited risk of liability. That did not deter me and I battled out against all odds. Everyone, including a few of my partners, were excited with the idea looking at the budget allocations by the government and the multilateral aid agencies, but nobody had the girt to see it through as turnaround time to realise yield was very high and there was no precedence to any models.

I was advised by a lot of well wishers and friends that this is not a workable idea and the only successful companies in drinking water are the home filtration companies who mainly address metros and developed markets. That threw a question to me: what will happen to our hinterland? Some one has to do it and at that time, my passion took over my inhibitions and thus was born a next generation social entrepreneur while having profit orientation and being socially responsible, committed and sensitive. This led to SWACHHAGRAHA, a movement which is no less than a revolution. SWACHHAGRAHA is a social development initiative of Aquakraft Projects Pvt Ltd., with an objective to initiate a movement that pervades one and all, making the basic amenities of life such as water, sanitation, hygiene accessible and available, with the motto to provide a better standard of living in the long run. SWACHHAGRAHA is inspired by our beloved Prime Minister Narendra Modi's vision of "Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan" and "New India" and humbly dedicates itself to the cause.

"SWACHH' is an acronym for Sanitation & Water for Community Health & Hygiene. "AGRAHA" is an invitation to all stakeholders across volunteers, donors, non profits, NGOs, social financial institutions, corporates, multilateral agencies, elected representatives such as corporators /MLAs / MPs/government and institutional stakeholders, and academia, to join a "movement for a Clean and Green India". A special impetus would be towards the Indian diaspora abroad to participate in the development of India under the aegis of our Prime Minister's inspired and dedicated leadership.

The principle philosophy of SWACHHAGRAHA is the five elements of AQUAS–Access Quality Utility Administration Sustainability.

First is to address the access to water, which is most important and is done by way of promoting water harvesting and ground water recharging. Also, planting water retention plants increases the ground water level substantially while making the environment green, paving the way for better air quality as well. Capacity building at the grassroots level is undertaken through a vocational course "SWACHH" where successful incumbents are called "Swachh Bandhus" and "Swachh Bhaginis".It is our endeavour to have two "Swachh Bandhus" and "Swachh Bhaginis" in every village as custodians and monitors of drinking water and sanitation assets in every village. Also such incumbents can be the ideal interface between the community and the administration /donors / CSR. It is our endeavour to integrate these incumbents under the MNREGA or the NRLM.

Once the access is available, it is important to validate the quality of water for a potability standpoint. Testing the water is very important, but more than often is not done due to non-availability of recognised testing infrastructure with the cost being another gating element. Grassroots level testing mechanisms are the need of the hour and we have innovated field-testing kits for the same.

Effective and judicious utility of water is very essential. Per capita need of water for drinking, cooking, bathing and sanitation is defined and advocacy of the same is undertaken through the "Swachh Bandhus" and "Swachh Bhaginis".

The same is monitored and administered by the "Swachh Bandhus" and "Swachh Bhaginis", leading to overall management of water across harvesting, conservation and saving.

Collating the above data, analysis of the same leads to better management of the programme, including course correcting, addressing operational challenges et al, leading to sustainability of the SWACHHAGRAHA.

While delivering clean drinking water and safe sanitation, SWACHHAGRAHA enables financial inclusion, financial literacy, skill development, vocational training, livelihood creation, entrepreneurship development, and women's empowerment in a sustainable fashion. Each of the initiatives to be undertaken under SWACHHAGRAHA endorses one or more of the schemes and programmes envisaged and launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in order to collectively realise the dream of a "New India" within a span of five years by in 2022, marking 75 years of our independence and also independence from the perils of contaminated water and lack of sanitation leading to better health and hygiene.

Youth and 'Swachhagraha'

India has over 50% of its population below the age of 25 and more than 65% below the age of 35. It is expected that by 2020, the average age of an Indian will be 29 years. This makes it imperative to involve the youth in discussions on water and sanitation. We have created a innovative partnership model called the Corporate Academic Partnership (CAP) with RD National College, Bandra, Mumbai, where we create a SWACHH initiative under its Community Assessment and Awareness Survey Programme (CASSP). Through the proposed Corporate Academic Partnership (CAP), the youth will be sensitised to problems of clean drinking water and lack of sanitation infrastructure in the country and will become responsible citizens. We aim to create a social movement that will increase awareness and inspire young individuals to take up the cause and contribute to the movement as envisaged by our Prime Minister. These young minds will be encouraged to take up the cause forward by becoming "SWACHHePRENEURS" and designing contextual solutions for a healthier country. This Corporate Academic Partnership is a first of its kind partnership between an educational institution and a corporate entity, which leverages the best of both worlds. We have tied up with the Mumbai-based "Chatur Ideas" which has a network of over 600 colleges across the India where CAP will be launched on 2 October 2017. Also, when we say educational institutions, it also include schools in addition to college and universities. We have tied up with the award winning ANNAMIRTA FOUNDATION of ISKCON which provides mid-day meals to over 7,500 schools across India benefitting over 1.2 million children everyday. Under this partnership, SWACHHAGRAHA will provide clean water and toilets at all these schools. Swachh Councils of higher secondary students will be set up to proliferate the benefits of clean drinking water, safe sanitation, eradicating open defecation and menstrual hygiene, specifically for girl students. It is our validated thought that children are the best agents for change and advocacy. Our idea of SWACHHAGRAHA is for the a "New India" and what better way to start it with the school children at the grassroots transforming the same to colleges and universities and eventually creating a nationwide network of SWACHHePRENEURS, "Swachh Bandhus" and "Swachh Bhaginis" all integrated under a unique social franchising model connected through a digital platform through a soon-to-be launched SWACHHASAP (mobile app) and SWACHHAGRAHA.COM (social exchange platform).

Other innovations under CAP

Water Quality Field Testing Kits

Water testing at the micro level is a very challenging activity and lack of the same often leads to epidemic, especially in bacterial contamination leading to diarrhoea and other rampantly communicable diseases. The World Bank estimates that 21% of communicable diseases in India are related to unsafe water. Testing labs are not very accessible and also the cost for the same is a gating element. The turnaround time for a test report to come and take action based on the same does not address the golden hour of intervention.

The Water Quality Field Testing Kits (WQFTK) are an innovation by the students of the botany and biotechnology department of RD National College, Bandra Linking Road, led by Professor Dr Mona Kejriwal. The testing kit is a sterilised bottle with a testing strip. Water sample is filled up to the mentioned mark on the bottle and is kept for 12 hours. If it remains the same after 12 hours, then the water is potable. If the same becomes black, then the water is infected with bacteriological contamination. The positive sample are called again and further tested for specific bacterial infection; the test is known as “IMVIC” test. Subsequently, the contaminated sample can be sent for a detailed analysis at the nearest NABL recognised water-testing lab. Based on the chemistry of the raw water, Aquakraft will construct a green solution along with the Peak Cash Requirement (PCR) of the programme as a composite of capital cost plus maintenance, which will then be forwarded to the local administration. The same will also be uploaded on SWACHHAGRAHA.COM for donors/CSR to participate.

Aquakraft is further adding to the innovation by integrating an electronic instrumentation element along with a QR code, which will enable reporting of the result of the water into a central server.

Swachh Lab

Swachh Lab is a nodal element in the SWACHHAGRAHA programme. The objective of the Swachh Lab is to foster innovation and R&D, testing and calibration, survey and data collection, monitoring and reporting, support and contact, knowledge management across all elements of drinking water and sanitation. It acts as a back end support and co-ordination hub for all the elements of SWACHHAGRAHA.

Innovation stems from the need for survival. There are lots of innovations that are locked in our hinterland that have been used to address chronic problems. Apart from that, fresh minds have fresh ideas and fresh approaches to age-old problems. In a bid to unlock this potential, Swachh Lab has created a platform to aggregate all such innovations and ideas. These ideas will then be validated and if found worthy, will be tested and calibrated from a cost and efficacy standpoint. Basis, which a commercial model, will be evolved, and the innovations will be monetised. A structured competition will be held regularly both from a technology and business perspective. In this regard, Aquakraft has tied up with "Chatur Ideas", a start-up advisory firm conducting entrepreneurship development courses across colleges in India with affiliation to over 600 colleges. Under this partnership, Swachh Labs will be set up at all these 600 colleges under the Community Assessment and Awareness Survey Programme. The students at each of these colleges will address the drinking water, sanitation, hygiene and waste management requirements of schools, primary health care centres, villages, slums under their jurisdiction, while promoting the social enterperenurship programme leading to a "SWACHHePRENEUR".

As for funding, the colleges give initial basic infrastructure, and it is proposed to solicit grant funding, R&D capital and CSR funding. The final objective is that Swachh Lab transforms into a "Swachh Accelerator"

Digital Swachhagraha

Giving is the ability of the giver to give and the need of the beneficiary to receive. Generally, willingness to give is often dwarfed by the access to genuine and qualified information and beneficiaries. Having said that, beneficiaries more than often find it almost impossible to find genuine donors or givers.

We have developed SWACHHAGRAHA.COM, a comprehensive Social Exchange Platform which connects the haves with the have nots. SWACHHASAP (mobile app) is a digital interface connecting all the stakeholders on a single platform. The reason for choosing the mobile app as an interface is that people in the hinterland may not be literate at the alpha level, but be strongly literate at the numeric level and the classic case in point is the highest penetration of mobiles phones across every strata of the society.

SWACHHASAP can be downloaded both on Android and iPhone SWACHHAGRAHA.COM and SWACHHASAP will be launched on 2 October 2017.

Swachhagraha: Target 2022

On the last Independence Day, 15 August 2017, we have taken a pledge to gain freedom from the perils of contaminated water and lack of sanitation leading to better health and hygiene. In the coming five years leading to the 75th year of Indian Independence, we have conceptualised an ambitious programme with the following elements of Swachh:

• 50,000 SWACHHePRENEURS managing water ATMs and toilets addressing 500 districts through a unique social franchising model connected through a digital platform.

• Make clean drinking water and toilets available in over 50,000 schools, primary health care centres, etc.

• Vocationally power two "Swachh Bandhus" and "Swachh Bhaginis" in each village over our area of coverage.

• Enable last mile reach for every element of Swachh to benefit people across our hinterland.

 

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