The Gaighata block of North 24 Parganas had an arsenic problem.
Due to the natural settlement of rocks and minerals around North 24 Parganas, arsenic, a natural but harmful element, is contaminating water supplies. When we first started working in India in 1996, we discovered that many of the health problems in the community were due to arsenic contamination. Arsenic is a problem because, unlike other contaminations, normal filters can’t remove it and the filters that do are very expensive to buy new.
Determined to find a solution, we worked with local partners to install the first arsenic filter in Gaighata. It was a success and in 6 months many of the ailments associated with arsenic began to dissipate. The community also came together to form a water committee, which collected tariffs to fund the upkeep and maintenance of the filter.
But over time another problem presented itself, the new filters were being used at an alarming rate and buying new ones was too costly. And even though the filters could be recharged at a charging station, the closest one was far away and the process took at least two days to complete.
Together with our local partner, Indian Institute of Engineering, Science and Technology, Shibpur (IIEST), we worked with the committee to find a solution.
And we did.
By 2012, IIEST established a recharging station in the community, which means filters aren’t replaced too soon, and the community doesn’t have to pay for costly transportation. Now, it is easier, quicker, and cheaper to re-use the filters, and the life of an individual filter has increased—some last as long as three years.
But this isn’t just a story of technology and innovation, it is a glimpse into what it means for communities to come together around a need, and catalyze change from the ground up. Today, the committee is thriving with each household contributing 20 rupees each month, and they’ve even created jobs for the community members including a caretaker and three rickshaw drivers who deliver water to more remote areas.
This is just another example of what it means to cater to the needs of individual communities and empower them to build systems that work for them, systems that will last for generations to come.