In India 37.7 million people are estimated to be affected by waterborne diseases every year, with 1.5 million children dying from diarrhoea alone (1). According to the National Rural Drinking Water Programme, 1 in 5 water sources on average are contaminated with bacterial pathogens, with some areas such as Andhra Pradesh with 60% of all tested sites being contaminated (2).
Presently water is tested by the National Rural Drinking Water Programme, in which trained experts will go into communities, collect a sample and take it to a lab for testing. In 2014 the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation programme tested over 4 million water sources for a variety of parameters. In 2014 they trained approximately half a million employees (3). The National Rural Drinking Water Programme in 2014 spent over 1.2 billion USD on water quality monitoring, bacterial and chemical test kits, operations and maintenance (4).
Current tests take over 24 hours, can only be performed by trained experts and are expensive. We will introduce a fast, low cost bacteria test kit that can be used by anyone, anywhere. Community members would be able to conduct high-end bacteria tests on-site with little to no training. Results will be uploaded to a database allowing real-time mapping of results geographically to support coordinated efforts to improve water quality across India. “There is a need to promote community based water quality monitoring and surveillance at the grass root level as a mechanism to identify problems and to take corrective measures. We need to empower communities to secure clean water.”
The kit will be able to detect bacteria number in water in under 2 hours using a microscope within the kit; this is much faster than any other quantitative test kits currently available. We not only will be able to detect E. coli and coliforms specifically, but also other bacterial pathogens such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, Staphylococcus, Listeria, Clostridium and more. The test will also include the standard tests such as turbidity, chlorine, and pH.
We have formed a powerful partnership with Agastya International Foundation, an Indian based NGO to drive science education across impoverished communities through after school training programmes; Madanyu Social Enterprise, an instructor training organisation for computer based education in the developing world; and WaterScope, a not-for-profit, UK start-up for 3D printed water testing equipment.
Our strategy is to connect with communities by reaching out to schools via our established network in rural India, currently active in 16 states and impacting over 8 million lives. Here we shall deliver a 1-day programme for children as well as parents to learn how to collect, record, and mitigate the risk of water contamination in their village. Further, we shall select champions to maintain the programme and generate income. In parallel to our community engagements, we aim to connect with local government groups in charge of water and sanitation to adopt this programme on a statewide level.
In 2015, we successfully launched a pre-pilot using WaterScopes’ 3D printed kit as a direct education tool by Madanyu trainers at Agastya’s main campus. With the Water.org funding we seek to complete a state-wide pilot in Andhra Pradesh that will work as a showcase for local government and water initiatives by 2016 and build towards a nation-wide operation to connect with millions of people.
We will incentivise and empower communities enabling sustainable change to combat water inequality.
1) Drinking water quality in rural India: Issues and approaches. WaterAid.
2) India Water report on bacteria contamination, accessed on 2/3/2016 under http://indiawater.gov.in/IMISReports/Reports/WaterQuality/rpt_WQM_BactAffectedSourcesMPR_D.aspx?Rep=0&RP=Y
3) India Water report number of trainees, accessed on 2/3/2016 under http://indiawater.gov.in/IMISReports/Reports/WaterQuality/WQ/rpt_WQ_NumberOfTrainees_S.aspx?Rep=0&RP=Y
4) India Water report component cost, accessed on 2/3/2016 under http://indiawater.gov.in/IMISReports/Reports/Financial/rpt_RWS_StatewiseComponentExpenditure_8A.aspx?Rep=0&RP=Y