On a warm Friday afternoon in the slums of Madhukam, in the heart of Ranchi, India, a middle-aged man arrived at a public water station with two 20-liter containers to fill. The water station - directly adjacent to an open sewage drain - was really just a concerete wall with four pink spigots protruding from its barren surface. On top perched two large, seemingly empty holding tanks of water. The man placed one of his containers under the first spigot and turned the handle. A small flow of water came out. Within a minute, the flow turned into a trickle, and the trickle quickly became nothing. The man moved to the next spigot, and then the next, only to have all four repeat the same pattern. In the end, the man left carrying only six ounces of water in his two 20-liter containers. In addition to the lack of water, the stench from the open sewers is overpowering. Many times, these sewers can be found next to these water stations; leaking sewage and domestic waste water into the community’s only drinking, bathing, and cooking water.
The health implications of this contaminated water are enormous, leading to 7.5 percent of total deaths in India. What is worse, India’s children, who bear the brunt of poor sanitation, are disproportionately affected by water borne diseases such as malaria, worm infestations, diarrhea, and pneumonia. One third of all deaths of children under five years old are caused by the lack of clean water, and of the children that survive these dilapidating diseases, many have weakened immune systems, and are severely underweight and malnourished – leading to a severely impacted learning ability that affects them for the rest of their lives.
Options for clean water are few and far between. Unfortunately, due to a lack of resources and other constraints faced by the local and national Government, these water stations remain the only access to water for those living in India’s slums.
It was after seeing such horrible living conditions that Sudesh Menon made the extraordinary choice to leave one of the world’s most pre-eminent companies to give back to his community. Relying on his extensive years of experience as an executive at General Electric (GE), Menon believed that through boring business practices such as high-quality, profit driven performance standards and day-to-day management skills, India’s most horrible social problems could be solved in an efficient and successful manner. Thus, he founded Waterlife India in 2009, a for-profit company aimed at provided clean water for all. Within only a few years, Waterlife has developed into a successful company: bringing clean water to the poorest in India through 450 installations across ten states.
Because of Mr. Menon’s private sector approach to water delivery in India, a brand new, steel-framed building stands a mere 20 meters from the water station in Madhukam mentioned earlier. This building houses a six stage filtration system and has six, shiny, silver spigots with specially installed filters on the side. With the same technology and flow of water found in water systems in four star hotels, the poor living here only have to turn the spigot, and out flows crisp, clear, clean water.
Waterlife India was selected as a 2013 Development Marketplace grantee to install and scale up their Community Water Systems in Orissa and Jharkhand. Due to their success in providing clean water throughout India, the Government of Jharkhand’s Drinking Water and Sanitation Department has shown interest in adopting and scaling up their business model.