Rural Areas In India Getting Water 'ATMs'

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At long last villagers in India are getting clean water from ATM-style kiosks. A program that’s started up in rural areas dispenses several gallons at a time for the equivalent of a penny. No need to wait around for a water truck or take a gamble at an untreated well.

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Access to clean water is an enormous problem throughout India, particularly in slums. Water from wells drilled in the ground tends to be poor in quality and can be dangerously contaminated. Tankers dispense water for free, but service is erratic and limited. When a tanker does stop, getting the water can be time-consuming and chaotic, according to a recent report by the global innovation firm Frog Design.

The water delivery service company Sarvajal, in collaboration with Frog Design and with support from the Piramal Foundation, has plans to install 50 water ATMs in slum redevelopment communities, GigaOm’s Katie Fehrenbacher reported. Right now the company already has 35 kiosks installed in urban areas. The water comes from local wells but is treated using reverse osmosis and UV. Franchise owners operate the solar-powered ATMs.

These self-service kiosks can take either rupees or pre-paid cards. One rupee, which equals a penny, dispenses about 2.6 gallons of treated water, NDTV reported. Although the system is for-profit, the price is much lower than buying water bottles, water pouches or four-gallon water jugs. Those options range from seven to 32 cents per quart, according to Frog Design’s research. It’s also more reliable and faster than waiting for a tanker.

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In rural Kanakapura, an area near Bangalore, a local politician and his businessman brother brought in a water ATM pilot program, the Telegraph’s Dean Nelson wrote. While the program has been popular, NDTV’s Radhika Iyer reported that it’s unclear how long it will remain in place after elections. I do hope the kiosks stay and end up more than breaking even. Otherwise it’s back to a gut-wrenching past.

Photo: Water tanker service is erratic and limited for this resettled slum in India. A new ATM-like network could provide predictable, affordable clean water. Credit: Journeys for Water report, Frog Design

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