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NEWS-UP: Non-conventional Energy in Water and Sanitation for Urban Poor

NEWSUP delivers drinking water in slums from water-ATM supplied by solar run water-sanitation complex through community governance

Photo of Dipayan Dey
25 15

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  • The intervention is an integrated community based holistic plenary on ‘water and sanitation’ issues of urban poor, inhabiting the slums of Kolkata metropolis in West Bengal, Guwahati in Assam and Shillong in Meghalaya. It propounds a sustainable revenue return model for unrestricted access to WHO recommended safe drinking water through micro-retail services for community and clean sanitation facility. The WASH program is implemented by South Asian Forum for Environment [SAFE] in the name as ‘WASH-US’(Water Sanitation and Hygiene for Urban Slums) in West Bengal and NEWS-UP (Nonconventional Energy in Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor) in Assam & Meghalaya. The facility shall have an improvised solar run water-treatment plant sustained on harvested surface water in ponds and supplying budgeted volume of drinking water to slum dwellers at a nominal and affordable price of INR 0.20 per litre (USD 0.004), along with a common hygienic sanitation unit for them. Community enjoys the facility with a contributory ‘service fee’ for maintenance of the facility and also earns revenue by micro-retailing the excess of potable water to urban consumers in the area. A biogas plant fed with the refuse of community toilet and other organic garbage of the area supplies to a community kitchen in the day time and generates electricity to illuminate strategic points at night for the safety and security of womenfolk. The proposal importantly focus on three primary aspects
  • Access to safe water for all, ensuring community governance towards budgeted and wise-use of water resources and its recovery as well.
  • Establish a sustainable revenue linked participatory model for healthy and sanitized environment to all, by developing community ownership and warranted attitude change in sanitation habit
  • Integrate the community intervention on water and sanitation with a ‘low-carbon’ initiative by reducing emission footprints and prompting the use of renewable energy through reciprocity and equity.

The proposed programme is aligned to newly drafted National Water and Sanitation Policy in India, propounding right to clean drinking water and sanitation to all, wherein the water resources ministry has suggested that the access to safe drinking water and sanitation be regarded as a right. The policy has prioritized regional preferences of action to address the statistical gap in achieving national targets wherein only 42.2% people in Jharkhand, Bihar & West Bengal have access to clean drinking water and sanitation compared to Punjab, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand having nearly 90% coverage. The proposal also promotes national mandate of developing 100% open defecation free peri-urban areas.

Clean water is touted as “Next Oil” in recent times and UNDP report (2010-11) states that slum dwellers do not have proper and equal access to drinking water recommended by WHO. Though the MDG of UN Task Force for free access to clean drinking water to all is next to impossibility in peri-urban slums of India, this proposal tries to deliver a sustainable solution by developing a revenue return model and cross subsidizing the commodity so that poorest of the poor can afford it. It is, therefore, a community partnership model for access to water and sanitation for all, where participatory decision is facilitated with technology support, strategic assessment and adaptive management for accomplishing the core objectives. Mainstay of the proposed process is a 3-tier design, which represents a community centre run by the WSHGs that supplies safe drinking water in budgeted volume to the beneficiaries, accounts for the revenue returns from excess of production and runs a biogas fed community kitchen roaster facility as a value added service for the community women. The other value added services like community lighting and production of organic fertilizer from the biogas slurry are also extended to the beneficiaries as alternative economic opportunities and better lifestyle. Administration, operation and accounting are maintained by members of WSHGs in rotation, for which they earn remuneration from the collected revenues.

Mainstay facility comprise of the solar run water treatment plant with a 24X7 Water-ATM and 24 units of Biosanitation facilities connected to a Biogas plant and a generator unit installed by the implementing agency under the supervision of technology partner of the consortium and to be maintained by the trained community members. The implementing organization helps in community convergence to use the sanitation facility on sharing basis and develop sanitary habits, whereas they also bring in changes in attitude of wise-use of water through sensitization. In compensating the opportunity cost the lead organization will help them through capacity building for alternative economic opportunity and create direct and indirect employment opportunities as technical service provider or through extension services of microutility retail supply of water, biogas and organic fertilizer. The convergence is brought through free health camps, awareness campaign on health, hygiene, and environment. It also ensures community interventions for rainwater harvesting and integrated solid waste management. The members of the community are brought under financial inclusion program through bank linkage & microinsurance program. 

A ‘Project Monitoring and Regulation Committee (PMRC)’ has been formed with local stakeholders, technology providers and local administration to assess the progress intermittently from the date of inception. The committee designed ‘SMART’ verifiable indicators to assess the deliverables in midterm & term-end phases. Regular feedback on equity, reciprocity, accessibility and availability will be monitored and collected through various processes. Participatory vulnerability analysis (PVA), attitude scaling and survey methodologies will strategically deploy adaptive management for sustainable growth. The reporting occurs through circulated information, discussion and knowledge sharing.

Currently six units are working in eastern and north eastern India at Kolkata, Guwahati & Shillong benefitting nearly 12000 urban poor in 8 slums. The project has been longlisted by Ashden International this year and has won UN Water for Life Award in 2015 COP21, Paris.

How would you describe the stage of development of your idea?

  • Scaling phase

How big or scalable is the potential of your idea?

In Kolkata and Guwahati alone there are 1267 registered slums under the municipal corporation who do not have proper water and sanitation facility. Each slum is a market with average 350 households. If the global south is considered, the market for scaling up the project is almost infinite. Considering the high capex of the project owing to the solar component, we can assure that the project can be sustained through credit linkages easily and shall be able to grab the market profitably. Add on to this is the subsidies available on renewable energy and national sanitation mission and further if we converge the potentials of carbon finance and CSR funds for such projects, it has a booming market feasibility. We can not only provide safe drinking water to each of the members in a slum but can earn huge carbon credits, reduce emission footprints and create livelihood for thousands. This is going to slam the drinking water mafia nexus who sell bottled water at a price 10 times above.

Explain the sustainability aspect of your idea

The key strategy adopted in the proposal towards sustainable development is linking the programme to a revenue return system and creating alternative economic opportunities for beneficiaries. Further value additions like microinsurance coverage, capacity building, credit linkage for encouraging entrepreneurial endeavours and health-immunity programmes will ensure active participation of beneficiaries. The entire system is a business model for the poor with a break even period of 45 -50 months. The sustainability economics is worked out here under:
Economics of Sustainability
Details of Income Amount (INR) Amount (USD)
1st Year's earnings from water plant in 4 slums 3122100.00 58907.55
1st Year's earnings from sanitation units in 4 slums 3001950.00 56640.57
Total earnings 6124050.00 115548.11

Details of Recurring Operational Expenses
Expenses for project monitoring centre 50880.00 960.00
System proofing & management 180200.00 3400.00
Salary and maintenance 1908000.00 36000.00
Overhead expenses 185500.00 3500.00
Total Expenses 2324580.00 43860.00
NET PROFIT (1st Year) 3799470.00 71688.11

What types of financing would be required for your idea to be successful?

This is a sustainable model that can generate revenues. so simple credit linkages with soft rates of interest can be a comfortable source of funding. However, initially to scale up the project in varying climatic conditions and socioeconomic strata, we need grants for optimizing the technological harmony. This grants can be direct funding, CSR support or climate funds through adaptation windows, GCF or GEF.

If you are proposing to partner with other organizations, please explain their role and reason for partnership.

We would be willing to partner with CBOs or CSOs who can ensure the community governance element of the intervention for equitable access and reciprocal responsibilities in wise use of water. Water is life and is finishing fast on earth. We would like our partners to understand that.

In-country experience

  • Yes, for two or more years

If you have been operating in India, what has been your focus?

South Asian Forum for Environment, SAFE, ( a regional civil society organization registered in India, under Indian Trust Act of 1862, is spearheading interventions in sustainable environment development and poverty alleviation in five countries of South Asia within the Indian Ecoregion, since 2004. SAFE is in consultative status with ECOSOC as a regional CSO and as well with GEF as a regional CSO network member. SAFE is a major stakeholder in UNEA and enjoys observer status with UNFCCC and GCF. In the milieu of climate change, SAFE envisages global reciprocal partnership and participatory policy frame for commons to promote community governance and wise use of natural resources through participation, partnership, equity and reciprocity. SAFE has been able to achieve its development targets successfully under the aegis of lead agencies like World Bank, UNEP, UNHABITAT, APN-GCR, DFID, USAID, NASA etc and extended commendable partnership to several CSOs, IGOs, Institutes.

Is your organization currently legally registered in India?

  • Yes

What states or districts will you target/are you targeting within India?

Whole of North eastern States of India

Tell us a bit about yourself.

To ensure Biorights of Commons by enabling the community governance of nature capital towards equity and reciprocity is the first mandate of SAFE. All commons make our team. All commons inspire us in sustainability and survival. We work for the planet that is habitable only because it has water in it.

Is this a new or recent idea for your organization? How does it differ from what you are already doing?

No this is not a recent idea though it has undergone continuous refinement and updating in last four years, as it evolved its economic sustainability model, technological innovations and also community governance aspects. The initial model didn't have the energy efficiency in solar power, now since the efficacy is better excess energy can be sold to the main grid of state to earn some revenues. Similarly the micro-retail chain for supply services could be better created in this phase through women led Water Users Groups. The synchronizing of the integrated model of sanitation-water and renewable energy also could be perfected in this model.

What are the two or three biggest risks for your idea and how will you manage the risks?

Risk one: Continued non-solar days in rainy season when pure water demands are very high, leading to closing of power source.
Mitigation: Increased power storage life in solid state batteries up to three days and additional storage of drinking water in food quality storage tanks with higher self life up to three days. Back up grid connectivity.
Risk two: Pressure of supplying extra water to water-mafia nexus at higher price depriving members of slum communities.
Mitigation: Complete community governance in water sales and joint liabilities of community members to prevent such unethical business models.

How would you propose to track or record the households or customers reached?

We have a digital registration system for issuance of RFID cards that runs on a software named <CROWN> the software keeps automated reports of all beneficiaries, water consumption data, water quality data and revenues earned for each day. The same system will be used for trekking the scale up process.

If you had two years and $250,000 USD in funding, how many households or customers would you reach?

This amount would enable the installation of 5 units of NEWS-UP each with a capacity of 10,000 ltrs of water per day. This means it can cater up to 500 households per unit. Therefore a total of 2500 households or 12500 customers can be reached in two years.
On the contrary, each will replicate itself in the fourth year (break even period) adding another 2500 households in every fourth year at no cost.

How would you propose to invest $250,000 USD if you received philanthropic/grant funding support from

The investment mode will be
55% of the money is required for capital expenses
20% is operational costs
15% is spent in capacity building & community convergence
10% admin & overhead costs

What type of support beyond grant funding are you most interested in?

We need training in carbon financing systems and emission abatement calculations to earn carbon credits and supports from Green Climate Fund investments.

Does your organization have Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) approval?



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Photo of Dipayan

Thanks much Bahenda Joseph. Great to know your project and would love to team up with your company in any capacity. Visit us at . Just a humble suggestion. Will it be wise to make a reservoir? is the place hilly? We can also lift water from the 'run on the river' through solar driven water cascade effect. This saves resources, saves the planet too. I would like to learn more your end. It would be our pride to collaborate, if at all we can give something better. Thanks for your enthusiasm. 

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