AFP: India’s Tata launches low-cost water filter for urban poor

India’s giant Tata Group on Monday unveiled a new low-cost water purifier, which it hopes will provide safe drinking water for millions and cut the toll of deadly diseases.

The Tata Swach — named after the Hindi for “clean” — is designed to be used in rural households that have no electricity or running water, using ash from rice milling to filter out bacteria, the company said.

The device, which will cost under 1,000 rupees (21.5 dollars) according to one newspaper report, also uses tiny silver particles to kill harmful germs that can lead to diseases like diarrhoea, cholera and typhoid.

R. Gopalakrishnan, executive director of the Tata Group conglomerate, said the Swach was the “first step in a nationwide public effort to offer the consumer and the common citizen his right to have safe drinking water”.

“It’s a right that public policy has sought to fulfil but not very successfully so far,” Gopalakrishnan, who is also vice chairman of Tata Chemicals, told reporters in Mumbai.

According to the UN, more than one in six people worldwide — 894 million — do not have access to clean water for their basic needs, with diarrhoea the leading cause of illness and death, particularly among children.

Nearly 90 percent of deaths from diarrhoea are due to lack of sanitation, unsafe drinking water and water for hygiene. In India, 75 percent of the rural population does not have access to safe drinking water.

The UN World Water Development Report published in March said that better water supply, sanitation, hygiene and management of water resources could cut the burden of disease around the world by nearly one tenth.

Tata’s device, based on a larger one that was supplied to areas affected by the December 2004 Asian tsunami, has been in development for three years and is targeted at the 85 percent of Indians who do not currently filter their water.

It has a 9.5-litre (2.5 US gallon) capacity and can filter 3,000 litres until the cartridge has to be replaced, which would last an average family of five for 200 days, Tata Chemicals managing director R. Mukundan said.

A number of other low-cost water purifiers are already on the market, including Hindustan Unilever’s battery-operated Pureit model, which has a 4.5-litre capacity and can filter up to 1,500 litres.

Tata, which also sells the high-end Himalayan brand of mineral water, has invested one billion rupees in the project and aims to sell three million units in the next five years.

The filter, which Mukundan said meets the highest US Environmental Protection Agency standards, removing micro-organisms, colour and odour, has been tested in 600 rural households in four Indian states.

Mukundan said the company would eventually look to sell the device in sub-Saharan Africa but “first we want to address the Indian market because the potential is quite huge”.

Shipra Saxena, the India programme officer for British charity WaterAid, welcomed the filter’s launch.

Asked why private companies were providing a basic service normally carried out by governments, she told AFP by email: “Every player has some role to play. That is why the public-private partnership has gained prominence.

“The government is doing appreciable work but then the scale is a problem… private players can pitch in.”

Source: Agence-France Presse (AFP), December 7, 2009


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