Extending access to safe drinking water is one of the major developmental challenges facing India. Approximately 85% of the rural population, comprised of more than 700 million people, are dependent on groundwater for drinking. With an increasing trend of excessive dependence on ground water, ground water scarcity and contamination are now a major concern.
Arsenic and Fluoride Contamination in India
Arsenic is a highly toxic element and a known carcinogen, and is present in high levels in groundwater across several states in India. Since the early 2000s, there have been multiple reports of contamination in ground water sources across the country, but most prominently along the populous Ganga-Meghna-Brahmaputra stretch. The WHO has labelled it “the largest mass poisoning in recorded history”.
Of the 85 million tons of natural fluoride deposits on the earth’s crust, it is estimated that almost 12 million are in India. High fluoride contamination has already been observed across 22 States and more than 200 districts, potentially putting 60 million people at risk. Consumption of fluoride contaminated water causes Fluorosis, which is a crippling disorder– resulting in irreversible deformities and illnesses.
Although there are numerous technology solutions to these problems, many of them are expensive and/or ineffective at decreasing arsenic and fluoride levels in drinking water to acceptable levels. And while some solutions have proven to be effective in labs, few have been distributed in the field and even fewer appear to be sustainable in the long-term.
Scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs have developed two methods to remove arsenic and fluoride from drinking water, affordably and effectively. Electro-Chemical Arsenic Remediation (ECAR), an arsenic removal technique, uses a small amount of electricity to create rust in contaminated water. The rust binds to arsenic, which can then be removed from the water through settling and/or filtration. The second method, SAFR- Safe & Affordable Fluoride Removal Technology, uses minimally processed (dried/milled) bauxite ore as an inexpensive adsorbent for remediating fluoride contamination. Initial lab tests showed that fluoride remediation with the best-performing Guinea bauxite was ∼23–33 times less expensive than with activated alumina.
Both technologies have been designed community-backwards: they use materials that are locally sourced and affordable, highly effective, technically feasible and are robust in rural settings – they require minimal manpower to operate and maintain the system.
SAFEBillion – A consortium for providing safe drinking water at scale
Given the systemic nature of these problems, we believe it is imperative to work with multiple stakeholders, partners and a diverse set of organisations in order to achieve impact at scale. SAFEBillion is a consortium with the goal of solving the problem of Arsenic and Fluoride contamination in India.
The consortium consists of: Piramal Sarvajal, INREM Foundation and Sattva.
While technology forms only a part of the overall solution, there are multiple components required to make a solution work on the ground.
Sattva’s Solution will look at –
-The number of people with access to clean drinking water
-Improvement in health metrics
-New knowledge created
The goal is to take this technology from a lab solution to a field solution; and over the next three years field test, build and operate this technology and develop a model that can be scaled.
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