Safe Water Network hosted its fifth Beyond the Pipe Forum in New Delhi’s India Habitat Center on September 14, 2017. The event, which focused on how Safe Water Network and others can help to ensure universal access to safe water (consistent with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 6.1) by: employing small water enterprises (SWEs) in urban slums that function complementary to piped water supply; and creating the policy and enabling environment for such enterprises to thrive. Safe Water Network seeks to influence government policies, plans, and incentives to create a conducive enabling environment—one that allows for the expansion of an urban water policy framework beyond piped water, recognizes SWEs in formal city water plans, and ensures tenders that consider sustainability and incentives for entrepreneurs. The Forum was a part of an ongoing effort to convene and initiate the advancement of sector knowledge and engagement of sector participants to chart a roadmap and advance the scaling of SWEs.
Safe Water Network CEO Kurt Soderlund inaugurated the ceremony with an address that: highlighted the organization’s journey; pointed to the capabilities, expertise, and competencies the water sector has to offer in India; and championed SWEs as the decentralized, market-based solution with the potential to resolve the alarming unavailability of safe, reliable, and affordable drinking water for the poor. He stressed that the development of tools and resources are integral to achieving cost-effective and sustainable replication and scale of the SWE model.
Safe Water Network’s Vice President of Knowledge and Partnerships, Poonam Sewak, shared the findings of a three-year partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) that aimed to explore and develop solutions for affordable and safe drinking water to the poor, as a means of guiding policy reform that includes SWEs in India's Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) program and SWE adoption by the municipality of Hyderabad (Telangana’s capital city). The partnership also mapped current drinking water supply for the urban poor in four cities (Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam, New Delhi, and Mumbai), and outlined the findings in four separate city assessment reports.
Poonam proposed that, in addition to building infrastructure, the water sector must also focus on maintenance and comprehensive, continuous evaluation of SWEs. The development of three digital tools built in partnership with USAID—a Technology Selection Tool, a Plant Assessment Tool, and a Financial Viability Tool—help Safe Water Network and others assess the feasibility and performance of SWEs. Poonam also noted that collaboration with various players in the water sector led to the development of a set of performance standards that assess social, operational, financial, institutional, and environmental criteria (collectively referred to as SOFIE).
In a special address to attendees, Ramona El Hamzaoui, the Deputy Mission Director at USAID, stated that USAID is proud to have supported Safe Water Network in this SWE project. The partnership was able to leverage support from the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) for the installation of 50 Water ATMs that will provide safe water access to 150,000 people in the city’s urban slums. The Water ATMs (or Any Time Water kiosks) dispense clean drinking water at a nominal cost, using a pre-paid card. USAID is pleased that the SWE models promoted under the joint project have been adopted as a policy by India's Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs for implementation under the AMRUT program.
The event’s first session featured panelists Prof. Jagan Shah, Director of the National Institute of Urban Affairs, H. Subramaniam, Co-founder of Earth Water Group, and Ravindra Sewak, a Founding Trustee of Safe Water Network India. Amanda Gimble, Safe Water Network’s Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives, served as moderator. This session touched upon the policy measures that must be implemented in order to allow for the replication of small water enterprises.
Prof. Jagan Shah offered insight on hurdles Ssafe Water Network and the broader sector faces in scaling the USWE model across the country. He reckoned that a hybrid model of piped water supply and USWEs may be a more efficient solution than either of them in isolation. Ravindra Sewak emphasized that a partnership among the various stakeholders in the sector was imperative to reap the benefits of the advanced technologies, capabilities, and competencies available in the country today. Subramaniam stressed that, considering the downward trend in availability of drinking water for the urban poor, scalability can only be achieved through a confluence of government action and the creation of an enabling environment.
The session concluded with Prof. Shah addressing the issue of capacity building by suggesting the creation of a unified strategy with the government’s housing program. He also believes that the use of best-practice documentation and the exchange of innovative solutions will help scale the knowledge base. Subramaniam, meanwhile, suggested that hub-and-spoke delivery could provide a solution to the distribution challenge in urban slums.
Panelists for the second session included Dana Kishore, Indian Administrative Service, Chairman and Managing Director, Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply & Sewage Board, Government of Telangana, Dr. P. Somasekhar Rao, Director of the Advanced Center for Integrated Water Resource Management, Anuj Sharma, Chief Executive Officer of Sarvajal and Manish Wasuja, a Water Sanitation and Hygiene Specialist with UNICEF. Nilachal Mishra, a Partner with Human and Social Services at KPMG India, moderated the event.
Kishore began by arguing that the pricing mechanism adopted by SWEs and the metrics used to control the quality of water are integral to the success of such enterprises, and that the market for SWEs is demand-driven, which the government tends to fund accordingly. Sharma brought to light the pricing philosophy that must be followed and stressed that it is imperative to understand the target market while setting prices. Dr. Rao focused on the staggering quantities of waste water from treatment plants and the lack of innovative solutions to deal with it. He agreed that tools and performance standards are essential for maintaining and evaluating the success of SWEs.
The session closed with Kishore addressing the issue of spreading awareness amongst the consumers of Water ATMs about recontamination, due to the reuse of plastic. Dr. Rao spoke about the challenge of reject water treatment and the innovations and solutions that are emerging. Sharma stated that the crux of recontamination must be viewed in a holistic manner and resolved simultaneously.