Skip to main content

Can these 'water ATMs' bring relief to thirsty India?

By Sumnima Udas, CNN
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 1609 GMT (0009 HKT)
Residents fill drums from a water distribution tanker in New Delhi on June 16. Water shortages are a continuing problem in much of India, as around 150 million people have no access to clean water, according to government data. Residents fill drums from a water distribution tanker in New Delhi on June 16. Water shortages are a continuing problem in much of India, as around 150 million people have no access to clean water, according to government data.
HIDE CAPTION
Water shortages in India
Water shortages in India
Water shortages in India
Water shortages in India
Water shortages in India
Water shortages in India
Water shortages in India
Water shortages in India
Water shortages in India
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Some 150 million Indians have no access to clean water, according to government data
  • Authorities are trying to make communities understand the importance of water quality
  • The Delhi government is setting up "water ATMs" to combat the shortages

Editor's note: Sumnima Udas is CNN International's Delhi-based correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.

New Delhi (CNN) -- In a New Delhi neighborhood, residents line up in the blistering 45 degree Celsius heat (113 Fahrenheit) carrying empty jerry cans and water bottles, waiting for the government water tanker truck to arrive.

'We only get water once a week and each time we have to fight for it," one woman yells.

There are no laid pipelines in unplanned areas like this, so tanker trucks are their only source of water.

With the truck arrives chaos.

Sumnima Udas
Sumnima Udas

Some climb to the top of the tanker truck, reaching out for the pipes. Others jostle and argue below, trying to collect every drop.

Minor scuffles ensue. Many have been waiting for hours for their weekly supply and they are visibly angry.

Every household in this neighborhood is allowed only four jerry cans each.

"With so little water, we don't know if we should drink it, cook with it, or bathe with it," one woman says.

Water shortages are a perennial problem in much of India, but this summer the country's newly elected government is facing extra heat over water.

With so little water, we don't know if we should drink it, cook with it, or bathe with it.
New Delhi resident

Some 150 million Indians have no access to clean water, according to government data.

Finding a long term solution will take time, but for now the Delhi government has finalized plans to set up 500 "water ATMs" across the city.

The tall cylindrical concrete structures hold solar powered machines that look and function like an ATM. Instead of cash, they dispense water.

The innovative idea was initiated by an Indian social enterprise called Sarvajal -- meaning water for all.

Since the pilot project was launched in late 2013, Sarvajal has installed 15 water ATM's in a New Delhi re-settlement colony called Sarva Ghera.

For one cent, one can draw up to four liters of water. That's cheap even by Indian standards.

Though response has been slow, the thousand odd families who use the services say it has made a significant difference to their lives.

Dispensing water to India's poor via ATM
India's disabled trapped by poverty
India's New Era

"There's no more tension now," says Bhagwati, a Sarva Ghera resident.

"Now we can get water whenever we feel like it."

Before these so-called water ATM's, she too had to wake up every morning worrying about where to find water. Her whole day revolved around the water tanker truck's schedule.

Now with her rechargeable smartcard, Bhagwati can access clean drinking water 24/7.

Ground water is purified at localized plants, and distributed through these solar powered ATMs.

Sarvajal's project manager Amit Mishra says incidents of water-borne diseases have decreased in this neighborhood since the project was launched.

But India's poor have yet to realize that paying for clean water can save much more in health care costs later.

The biggest challenge is that everyone expects everything for free, Mishra said.

Mishra and his team have held countless meetings with the community to make them understand the difference in water quality and why clean water is worth paying for.

The change in mindset may take some time, but this simple but high tech idea may be the solution in a country with ever increasing thirst for clean water.

Read more: This machine makes drinking water from thin air
Read more: Once a rising star, chef now feeds hungry

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1634 GMT (0034 HKT)
With cyberattacks on the rise and here to stay, it's a modern-day challenge for people and businesses to get smarter about preventing them.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1524 GMT (2324 HKT)
Evidence points to pro-Russian separatists as perpetrators of the attack and Vladimir Putin is facing uncomfortable questions, David Clark writes.
July 3, 2014 -- Updated 0902 GMT (1702 HKT)
Macau has overtaken Switzerland in the wealth stakes, being named the world's fourth richest territory by the World Bank.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1447 GMT (2247 HKT)
Saudi Arabian Bateel brand is best known for its delectable dates but it now has more than a dozen cafes and a new bakery in the works.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1100 GMT (1900 HKT)
A British nanotech company has created what it says is the world's darkest material. It is so dark the human eye can't discern its shape and form.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1602 GMT (0002 HKT)
Jibo robot is designed to be an organizer, educator and assist family members. CNN's Maggie Lake met him and says she was impressed with his skills.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 2109 GMT (0509 HKT)
American burger joints have sprung up all over London, but how to know which ones are best? CNN's Jim Boulden investigates.
June 18, 2014 -- Updated 1222 GMT (2022 HKT)
Sandwiched in between Iraq and Syria, Jordan's destiny seems to be one of a constant struggle for survival. John Defterios explains.
June 18, 2014 -- Updated 1502 GMT (2302 HKT)
At the last football World Cup, it was all about 3D. This time around, it's nothing less than 4K.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1058 GMT (1858 HKT)
Bob Mazzer has photographed inside London's Tube network for 40 years. He's captured history.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1712 GMT (0112 HKT)
Exotic animals are becoming a profitable business opportunity for Nicaraguan entrepreneurs. CNN's Rafael Romo reports.
June 13, 2014 -- Updated 1529 GMT (2329 HKT)
Iraq produces 3.3 million barrels per day and has the world's fourth-largest oil reserves. But the current crisis is putting all this in danger.
June 18, 2014 -- Updated 1222 GMT (2022 HKT)
Sandwiched in between Iraq and Syria, Jordan's destiny seems to be one of a constant struggle for survival. John Defterios explains.
June 16, 2014 -- Updated 1314 GMT (2114 HKT)
The gas standoff between Russia and Ukraine could have a knock-on effect on Europe. Explore this map to find out why is the EU nervous.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1058 GMT (1858 HKT)
Bob Mazzer has photographed inside London's Tube network for 40 years. He's captured history.
June 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
The UK capital promotes its tech stars and shows it can compete with Silicon Valley. Here are five companies that pitch to make it big.
ADVERTISEMENT