Water scarcity and the lack of access to safe and clean drinking water has been one of the most pressing problems in rural as well as urban India. While the issue of scarcity of water is prevalent in drought prone states like Rajasthan and parts of Gujarat, the issue of access to safe water, despite its availability, has also been growing at an alarming rate.
World Water Day on March 22, is a recognition of and knowledge sharing on the issues around water that face various communities and how water can play a crucial role in employment generation. Making a mark on World Water Day 2016 and its theme, “Better Water, Better Jobs” is Cairn India – making safe water available to the communities it operates in.
Rajasthan, with 10.4 percent of the country’s geographical area, 5.5 percent of the population and 18.70 percent of the livestock, has only 1.16 percent of surface water available in the country. The state is one of the driest in India, where rainfall is erratic and distribution patterns are inconsistent. It is estimated that ~75 percent of the Indian villages with multiple water quality problems fall in Rajasthan. The per capita water availability in the State was 840 m3 in 2001, while the international benchmark for water scarcity was 1,000 m3.
Rajasthan also has the highest proportion of households reporting purchase of water. In the urban context, the demand for water (~1,800 million liters per day) was higher than supply ~1,475 MLD). Underground exploitation of water has increased massively, from just 35 percent in 1984 to as much as 138 percent in 2008, and was estimated at ~190 percent in 2015. Of the 249 blocks in the state, about 80 percent are either over-exploited or critical.
Rainfall is sparse with an annual average of ~200 mm. As a result, people are forced to walk long distances to procure water, which is of a highly questionable quality and generally does not meet WHO defined norms. Ground water is highly saline and is unsuitable for drinking or for agricultural purposes. The high total dissolved solids (TDS) content >3,000 with high fluoride content in water leads to several prevalent water borne diseases that impact the quality of life. These also lead to a high incidence of diarrhea, which in turn leads to a high Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) as well as Maternal Mortality (MMR) in the area, besides widespread incidence of fluorosis, dysentery and ‘blue baby’ syndrome.
To address the acute water shortage and provide access to clean and safe drinking water, Cairn has initiated a key CSR intervention to support the Government of Rajasthan (GoR) in its effort to provide safe drinking water to households in the state. In this initiative, Cairn is positioned to touch the lives of a million-plus people – no mean feat for a state as sparsely populated as Rajasthan.
The company initiated the Jeevan Amrit pilot project in collaboration with the Public Health and Engineering Department (PHED), GoR, to ensure clean and safe drinking water to the communities in the districts of Barmer and Jalore through the establishment of Water ATW (Any-time Water) kiosks.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed on 7th January 2016 between the PHED of Rajasthan and Cairn Enterprise Centre Society. As per the MoU, water purification plants will be established and maintained to provide clean and safe drinking water to more than 800 villages in Barmer. The initiative will involve setting up of 333 small scale ATW plants (1,000 to 3,000 litres per hour capacity) over the next three years to provide clean and safe drinking water. When complete, the initiative will certainly be the largest project of its kind in Rajasthan, if not in the entire country.
ATW kiosks have been established at a number of access points and the communities are provided with pre-paid smart cards with which they can access water at their convenience, in a manner similar to the access provided by bank ATM machines.
A key feature of the Jeevan Amrit project is that it is a community managed initiative, giving members a sense of ownership; the operators are chosen by a Village Water Committee from among the local community.
Cairn has also partnered with a few local entrepreneurs to run a ‘water on wheels’ system (called Jal Rath) which fosters a spirit of rural entrepreneurship.
Jeevan Amrit project will result in rural employment opportunities, which is in line with the World Water Day theme of 2016 ‘Water and Jobs.’ Beside operations and maintenance, indirect employment will be generated in water distribution, large scale civil works, plumbing as well as electrical.
Since power availability remains highly unreliable, in some areas in Barmer; Cairn has resorted to solar-powered ATW kiosks to address the problem, replacing grid power or diesel back-up, to minimize the carbon footprint.
Water ATW kiosks allow for remote monitoring in which the health of the plant and quality of water can easily be monitored though SMS alerts or through the Android™ platform. This provides real-time access of crucial parameters such as TDS levels, input and output water quality as well as flow rates.
Cairn India currently operates 44 ATW plants in Rajasthan and Gujarat, which have a best-in-class utilization. Out of the 34 plants in Rajasthan, almost a third of these had utilization of more than 50 percent, with five plants operating at over 90 percent utilization rates.
Jeevan Amrit project is being implemented with support of agencies such as WaterLife and Fontus in Barmer. In Rajasthan, around 70 units have been implemented this fiscal year. Having received extremely positive community feedback, Cairn is now increasing the scale and scope of the Jeevan Amrit project substantially.