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Clean water in India, 24/7? Not a pipe dream anymore

Small town in Maharashtra shows how India can provide its people with safe water -- around the clock.
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Residents of an Indian slum collect water from a hand pump. The World Bank estimates that 21% of communicable diseases in India are related to unsafe water, while diarrhea alone causes more than 1,600 deaths daily. (INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/Getty Images)

Clean water, 24 hours a day and seven days a week, sounds like a pipe dream in New Delhi. But an inspiring new development in small town Maharashtra has proved it can happen, according to the Indian Express.

It's a huge problem, according to Water.org, which says: "Most water sources are contaminated by sewage and agricultural runoff. India has made progress in the supply of safe water to its people, but gross disparity in coverage exists across the country. Although access to drinking water has improved, the World Bank estimates that 21% of communicable diseases in India are related to unsafe water. In India, diarrhea alone causes more than 1,600 deaths daily."

I'm rich by Indian standards. So I'm one of the lucky ones.

Every day, a siren wakes me up at 6 a.m. warning that the government's water supply is about to start, so I should get up to switch on an auxiliary pump to fill two huge plastic tanks on the roof of my apartment building. At 6:30 in the evening, I get another warning, this time for a half-hour burst.

If I were living in a slum, I wouldn't have running water in my house at all. And I might have to stand in line by a hand pump waiting for my turn to fill a couple buckets when the supply was turned on. On good days, I'd get maybe 5 gallons of water to bathe, wash the dishes, and cook with.  Some days, during drought or electricity outages, I wouldn't get water at all.

Even if I lived in another, less fortunate rich neighborhood, I might have to wait around for a water tanker to get my supply in the summer.

But if I lived in Malkapur, Maharashtra, I could just turn on the tap. Whenever I wanted. As if I was in Manhattan or Paris or London or just about anyplace where nobody even thinks about water as something that might not be available.

The details of the project are tough to summarize, so I recommend you read about it here.  But I'll give you some of the basics. 

The project cost about $2.6 million, 90 percent of which came from the state government.

Builders used high-density poly ethylene (HDPE) pipes, which require fewer joints, and the joints are made using electrical fusion-welded couplers to reduce leakage.

Higher prices for higher usage encouraged conservation, while the introduction of meters -- which replaced a flat fee -- actually resulted in savings for the poor.

And, thanks to lower energy consumption, less waste and better revenue collection, the state came out ahead, too. So called "non-revenue" water was cut from 40 percent to 12 percent of the total supply, and the 24/7 system recovers 100 percent of its operating and maintenance costs, compared with just 36 percent earlier.

And while Malkapur lost around $60,000 a year on its water program in the past, in its first year of operation after the 24x7 supply was put into place, it finished with a surplus of $8000.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/the-rice-bowl/clean-water-india

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