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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
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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 NET PROFIT RATIO (%) 62.04 RATE OF RETURN ON INVESTMENT (%) 53.39

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 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?



Join the conversation:

Photo of Dipayan Dey

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. 

Photo of Bahenda Joseph

Great idea Mr. Dipayan Dey. Our company may learn a lot from yours. We also intend to build a mini water treatment plant for our business and for the people in the neighbourhood. We have a river passing at a 400m down from our farm. We are preparing to install a water reservoir of 20000l ( We will purify the water from the river and canalize it using a Gas Engine Clear Water Pump and horses to the distribution centre. we are also exploring the possibility of using solar panels while we are waiting for the hydropower to reach our facility. Definitely water is life, and there is no human activity possible without life. The story takes place in Burundi but we can yet interact from this platform, share ideas and save lives. Keep up the good job.

Photo of Dipayan Dey

Recently, the NEWS-UP hub in Shillong was inaugurated in Pynthorba slum by Dr R C Laloo, Hon. Dy Chief Minister, Meghalaya in the august presence of Dr Mazel Lyngdoh, Minister Urban Affairs and Dr A. L Hek Minister Health & Family Welfare along with the community members of Pynthorba slum. 
Govt of Meghalaya has shown a keen interest in replicating this holistic concept of water energy and sanitation in the city but the ministers were concerned about the scanty sunshine in the hills for the energy demands. 
SAFE team has come out with yet another innovation of "Net Metering' wherein the power from the grid would be accepted during low sunshine or evening time and the energy generated through solar and bio-gas would be directly transferred to the grid to compensate the energy usage. This would be metered through 'Net Metering' facility that would count the net unit energy consumed after compensating it with solar. This would earn revenues in summer and spring whereas keep the facility running in rainy days with grid power. Apparently this will bring down the capital expenses by almost 22% as since the battery bank will not be required in this system. 
Soon NEWS-UP would enable the poor hill communities in Meghalaya with sustainable and equitable solutions for water sanitation and energy. 

Photo of Christopher

I like your idea!

Photo of Dipayan Dey

Thanks Chris, This adds to our conviction an strength. 

Photo of Dipayan Dey

We envisage Water Cooperatives in all slums of India, One inoculating the other with the sustainable mission. We envisage no poor with compromised water for drinking and compromised sanitation. ...and they earn the same on their own without supports and subsidies. 
Thanks for this tail-end question. 

Photo of Oishanee Ghosh

In a city of 4.5 million population where 1/3 of that lives in slums, appox. around 1.5 million, this is an incredible example of adaptive management that will benefit the community. Is there any future plans to estimate the emission reduction footprint?

Photo of Bipasha Bannerjee

Going through such excellent initiatives, I have started to believe we should not wait for the most desired 'Political will', for good things to happen. Congratulations!

Photo of Dipayan Dey

Thanks Bipasha. We too can do it. We just need to believe this.
Thanks again for your comments. 

Photo of Subrata Majumder

This looks to be a bit complicated project, 24X7 safe drinking water by a touch of a electronic card, sanitation facilities, even the refuse water and sanitation waste not wasted, plus community governance in maintaining the project. How it is all managed? What have been the challenges?

Photo of Dipayan Dey

Thanks Subrata. Yes it is complex and stands solely on technological orchestration and system governance. Community manages all...and to converge them to this desired symphony has been the main challenge. However, we could succeed in making them understand the value of WASH and they could relate it with growth, societal security and economic benefits. This actually worked, though it needed meticulous capacity building and hand holding. 

Photo of Sanjeet

Scaling up is very much required and this should be in top priority. Can I have a copy of published impact report?

Photo of Dipayan Dey

The impact assessments are being done by World Bank and State Social Welfare Board. However, these reports are yet not in the public domain. We can share a copy to you but for that please send us a request mail ( stating the purpose. Once it is public, we will make it available in our home page

Photo of Amrita Chatterjee

Very unique innovation indeed! What is the scope of feminist approach to technology in this project?

Photo of Dipayan Dey

Thanks for asking this question as often people do not 'think-n-link' technology with gender equity. We did prioritized this and have thought of this, though not exactly in a feminist way but rather from gender equity perspective. 
1. We provide simple 'touch-sensing' RFID cards for water delivery from water ATM, which even a small girl can do, though the cards retain all information about the delivery.
2. We provide bio-gas from sanitation units to community kitchen to be used by the women members for cooking (technology assissts elimination of fire wood and fossil fuels in cooking) and for the school children mid-day meals. 
3. The extra revenues being earned from the sale of solar energy to the grid is actually used for capacity building of women entrepreneurs working in our project "Resolve Trash-2-Cash" on integrated solid waste management. 
Yes I do agree a lot more needs to be done. We appreciate your inputs and expect supports from the global tech-community for sailing ahead. 

Photo of Alok

I have seen this project changing many lives in Kolkata slums. Thanks to the innovation! It is an excellent initiative.

Photo of Diganta Mukherjee

It is a wonderful challenging initiative for urban poor. I am always with them.

Photo of Angshuman Majumder

Great Initiative

Photo of Dipayan Dey

Dear Piu
Thanks for your comments. I am explaining the facets, as requested, here under
1. Gender equity: We try to bring in gender equity in a number of ways in the intervention, that begins with formation of water users group, we call them as Joint Liability Groups (JLGs), which is constituted with equal numbers of male and female, who are necessarily from different families so that women gets equal opportunity in decision making system, including financial decisions. Further, during participatory water budgeting, allocation of water is made considering gender proportionate usage. In case of equitable accessibility of water ATM for all and preferential accessibility of water and sanitation to women, senior citizens and handicapped persons, the facility points are placed accordingly. This also takes care of women safety at night, wherein the sanitation and water ATM points are lit dawn to dusk with solar lights. 
2. Green technology: The whole system runs on solar power which itself is a clean technology initiative, bio-sanitation units are made as zero effluent and utilized for production of biogas and organic manures, which are both climate adaptive initiatives and saves fossil fuel. the waste water is reused in sanitation and thus reduces water footprints through resource amplification. Over and above the initiative is added with municipal solid waste management and rain water harvesting in community water body for compensating the resource usage. These all integrates to an adaptive technological intervention for smart city initiatives for the urban poor. 

Photo of Angshuman Majumder

An excellent project by SAFE. Looking forward to a collective process that developes sustainable livelihood.

Photo of Somasree Basu

Great going! Hope you can reach out to many more communities with this innovation...wish you all the best for this endeavour. Access to safe drinking water is definitely a big challenge in the current scenario...hope you get to change many more lives with this initiative..

Photo of Piu

Excellent project! Kindly explain the gender equity and clean technology initiatives (if any) in your intervention. Wish you a brilliant go ahead with the project atleast in the given Indian scenario of WASH. Piu Palit

Photo of OpenIDEO

Dipayan and team, congrats on moving into the Refinement phase! Below are some feedback and questions from our experts. Looking forward to your responses.

What is the initial cost to create a new center? Would concessionary debt be a good source of capital for this?

With the 45-50 months of break even, is that total costs including initial and ongoing costs?

Are there any economies of scale when you add more locations? With so many in need, how do you select which communities you target next?

We’d also love for you to reach out engage with some of the other ideas in the Refinement phase of this challenge. Collaboration is the name of the game here at OpenIDEO. We’re looking forward to how you’ll work together to grow each other’s initiatives.

Photo of OpenIDEO

Also, to answer the new questions, hit the Edit Contribution button at the top of your post. Scroll down to the entry fields of the new Refinement questions. Hit Save when you are done editing.

Photo of Dipayan Dey

1. The initial cost depends on two essential factors, (a) Location (b) No of beneficiaries. even then approximately the average cost of one complete solar run unit would be around USD 67,000.00.

2. Yes, concessionary debt can be of help. Actually there are some soft costs like community sensitization, governance, financial inclusion, capacity building and some externalizations too which needs a resource buffer. We always try either soft loan with a prolonged moratorium period or a grant-loan mix for a sustainable set up.

3. Yes 40-45 months break even includes both capex & opex.

4. Economies of scale would be of considerate value only when ten or above installations be threaded together. there would be a cost reduction of 12-18%.

5. We do not select the community, we select their need. However site selection has few technical features like solar window length, water source, space sufficiency and hassle free land for installation, accessibility etc. We try to be as inclusive as possible in extending the facility, in fact that is very important for sustainability.