Solar-Powered Water ATMs Provide Clean Drinking Water To The Thirsty

In remote areas where clean water is scarce, Sarvajal's water-dispensing ATMs provide a cheap solution.

Clean water is a luxury; one in eight people around the world lack access to supplies of the stuff, and unsafe water is responsible for 60% to 80% of all disease in India alone. There are plenty of possible solutions—new wells, pricey community water filters—but an organization called Sarvajal has devised a fix that is rapidly spreading across India: solar-powered water ATMs.

Sarvajal was honored this month as a Tech Award Laureate for its franchised water treatment
facilities that leverage local cellular networks to remotely keep track of quality and quantity. "One of the objectives when we first started [in 2008] was to create a market-based mechanism of health care," explains Sameer Kalwani, CTO of Sarvajal. Hence, the solar-powered water ATM, a device that gives customers in rural areas access to clean water any time with the use of a pre-pay card that can be recharged via cellphone.

Here's how the water ATM processed works: local franchisees—people who want to make money as water stewards for their community—are allowed to operate ATMs in their villages. They pre-pay Sarvajal for water, and pick it up to dispense into the ATMs, which treat the water with reverse osmosis and ultraviolet rays. Community members get their pre-pay water balances from the franchisee, who is allowed to keep all cash from home deliveries. If something goes wrong with one of the cell phone network-connected ATMs (i.e. a leak), Sarvajal finds out immediately and fixes it.

Sarvajal's franchisee network is growing fast. So far, there are 120 facilities in India serving 60,000 people for the price of less than $3 per month per family. In remote areas where clean water was impossible to come by before, this is more than just a luxury—it's a potentially life-saving technology.

[Image: Sarvajal]

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  • janjamm

    People should not have to buy their water from a "ATM" machine! Three dollars a month is a luxury few can afford in India. Most barely have any money. To have to spend precious little to buy water is outrageous. What about all those who have no money? Instead of developing long-term solutions for them, the "Tech Laureate" becomes a multimillionaire. From where does he get the water? The water tables are a disaster in India. This solution seems so good and humane and yet the repercussions are very problematic. Water. What a huge, unacknowledged problem.