Economics of drinking water in urban India

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Thanks to technology, clean drinking water is not only more accessible, it’s also cheaper

Urban India’s Water Crisis: The Economics Of The Endemic India’s Water Crisis Is More Complicated Than You Think.

Approximately 1.2 billion people in the world do not have access to ample clean water. In India, an estimated 160 million people have no access to this life essential, making it one of the worst affected globally. The problem is worsened by the continuous rise in population and urbanization.

Rural areas are not the only ones affected, however. Urban India, where 377 million live as of 2015, is just as badly affected. This number is expected to hit 575 million in 10 years.

Rural areas are not the only ones affected, however. Urban India, where 377 million live as of 2015, is just as badly affected. This number is expected to hit 575 million in 10 years.

Despite water not being scarce in the country, with rivers and rainfall aplenty, poor sanitation, conservation and management have led to this worsening situation. The growing demand in urban areas, coupled with the population increase among urban slum dwellers, have not helped either.

Many have found different options to find a short and mid-term fix to this crisis, but some are merely a mirage of a solution.

Water Sources In Urban India And Why They Fail

While the 2018 NSS ’Drinking Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Housing Condition In India’ report found that 80 per cent of urban areas had drinking water facilities in their household premises, the problem is far from being solved. These households are spending way too much on this essential. And even those willing to, most known treatments don’t even deliver actual potable water.


Water Purifiers

Water purifiers are slowly becoming the go-to solution for urban homes, especially since these are readily available in the market. The same 2018 NSS report found 20.8% of urban homes use an electric purifier for treating drinking water. However, these machines are not the most economical and practical fix to this problem.

Buying one starts a long and unending financial burden — upfront costs are steep and maintenance fees are even higher. Missing a maintenance schedule and you run the risk of drinking contaminated water.

A 2013 study found five in ten households with purifiers have had a family or friend fall sick due to contaminated water. More alarming is 53 per cent said they use water purifiers for drinking water. Many point to poor maintenance, as annual costs may go north of INR 4,000, but there are several more factors — one is that purifiers offer a one-size-fits-all solution which doesn’t work for some areas wherein lead, arsenic and bacteria are much more pervasive.


Bubbletop Water And Bottled Water

Canned, bubbletop and bottled water have seen a rise in demand the past few years. As of 2018, over 12 per cent of urban households rely on bottled water for their drinking needs. In Chennai alone, 2014 International Journal of Water Resources Development reported that households buying canned water spend an average of INR 377 (5.55 per cent of monthly income), with a maximum spend of INR 600 each month. While it may be costly, many are drawn to packaged water because of the no upfront investments — you only pay for what you consume.

But in spite of the high costs, bubbletops and bottled waters are still prone to contamination during storage and transportation. Our research revealed that in Bangalore alone, 70 per cent of drinking water in circulation is unsafe — that’s 17 million bubbletops/ cans/ bottles per month.

So, What Works?

Yes, the problem is worsening, and there’s no immediate end in sight, but that is not to say strides have not been made to find a solution — regardless of how small its impact is.


Water ATMs

Thousands of water ATMs have been installed across the country, aiming to provide a low-cost solution to the public. Both the government and private sectors have contributed to this effort. WaterHealth India, for one, intends to provide clean drinking water to 100 million Indians by this year.

The 24/7 dispensing machines are mostly found at railway stations and accept cash, smart cards, Paytm and other payment options. Targeting low-income groups, water ATMs provide clean water for as low as INR 5 for 20 litres.

But these machines are incredibly expensive — both the ATM and the purification system it uses. One ATM costs around INR 88,000, and that doesn’t include the reserve osmosis system that treats the water and the cost of maintaining the machine. This has made expansion and proliferation of these water ATMs slow and still scarce.


Smart Water Subscription

Thanks to technology, clean drinking water is not only more accessible, it’s also cheaper. Smart water subscriptions offer the best option for urban Indians — no upfront payment for the smart purifier, pay only for what you consume, and water is remotely and regularly monitored to ensure water quality while offering convenience.

Top smart water services provide 99.9 per cent pure and healthy water for as low as INR 374 per month, with free lifetime purifier maintenance. There are no risks too as they offer a 7-day trial and a cancel anytime policy.

With smart water subscription, there’s no more dirty water bottles, unfiltered water and costly maintenance fees.

There’s more to urban India’s water problem than most know about. It’s not as easy as A + B — there’s a whole economics behind it; a tangled web of “solutions.” Some are more successful than others, but they still cannot end this endemic.

Despite this fact, small as they may seem, these options provide millions of Indians hope for a better future — one clean drop of water at a time. Initiatives and innovations may take decades to come into fruition, and it may not even be enjoyed by the current population, but it could offer an overflowing future for the next generation.


Vijender Reddy, CEO, DrinkPrime, Bengaluru


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