August 24, 2016
Nearly 100 million people in India lack access to safe water and 75 percent of India’s surface water is contaminated by human, animal, agricultural and industrial waste. Its groundwater often contains high levels of fluoride and other mineral contaminants. Water and sanitation-related illnesses account for 50-70 percent of the country’s disease.
To combat these issues, Safe Water Network (SWN) provides affordable and reliable access to clean water for those in low-income and poverty-stricken areas. SWN does this through empowering communities to own and manage their own safe water stations.
SWN has worked alongside communities in India and Ghana since 2008, providing more than a half a million people daily access to safe water. Currently, there are 140 safe water stations in India and more are being added. The stations are located in the Telangana, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh regions of India.
SWN provides the training, tools and support to ensure the water station can be locally managed and operated. The customers/communities pay a nominal fee (7 cents for 20 liters) to ensure financial sustainability of the station—research shows that buying into the process brings a higher rate of success. The station also pays into a sustainability fund for its long-term, trouble-free operation.
Improving lives through collaboration
UL’s relationship with Safe Water Network began in 2012 through the development of water quality tools, training for safe water station operators, and a tablet-based water quality application. The collaboration between UL and SWN continues with support for iJal (My Water) plant assessment tools and the WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) education program, which has been deployed in 250 schools in India’s Telangana region.
SWN sets up iJal stations that not only pump water out of the ground but also purify it through a reverse osmosis system. While these stations are small, there are mechanical, electrical and water checks to help ensure they comply with Indian national standards as well as International standards for clean water.
In collaboration, UL’s Field Services Team in Greater Asia/Emerging Markets provides SWN in India with pro bono audits at these water stations and trains operators and technicians on audit requirements for compliance with electrical and mechanical safety and the validation of water quality and purification.
Zubin Dastoor, managing directory Greater Asia and Emerging Markets, Field Engineering, is leading the team that will help to provide the services for the SWN water stations.
Dastoor says that UL’s work with SWN is a natural extension from the work Field Engineers already perform. When UL certifies a product with a UL Mark, it gets inspected throughout the life of the product. The SWN water purification stations also need to be evaluated.
UL’s role is to make sure stations are being run and maintained correctly and develop a report on those audited stations. SWN can then use that information to determine what needs to be improved immediately or what may be able to be put off to a later time as well as how to improve the overall quality of the station itself.
“This project helps to empower people in the village. Studies and statistics show that clean water helps poor rural villages come out of poverty because these communities learn how to care for themselves. The whole socioeconomic status of the village changes when they have clean water,” says Dastoor. He also commented that health issues are drastically reduced; children are more likely to go to school and get an education, and people can get jobs and earn an income.
Girls are relieved of the responsibility to fetch water, thereby allowing time to attend school. “In addition to the health and economic benefits, there is an equally important personal safety benefit, specifically for women and children, when water is readily available. Having safe and sanitary toilets, as well as easy access to clean water, reduces the risk of rape or assault to women and children, as they are not exposed when traveling long distances to access water or when using outside latrines,” says Dastoor.
SWN has achieved success because it teaches the importance of using safe water, good hygiene and also includes education and outreach. The program’s next phase will combine UL’s electrical and fire safety messages through UL’s Safety Smart® Program to continue educating communities in these low-income areas.
Tools for safe water stations are intended to contribute to the broader mission of helping citizens exercise leadership about how best to improve their communities and quality of life. By applying these techniques, communities should experience a transformation from poverty into progress and improved health for all.