Testing the Waters

After finding bacterial contaminants in the water supply of Bharog Baneri, Project RISHI is working to implement and scale a sustainable filter solution.

One of the most prominent efforts undertaken by the Berkeley chapter of Project RISHI has been helping the villagers of Bharog Baneri, Himachal Pradesh sanitize their water supply. To recap our journey so far, we ascertained that there were significant issues with water during the summer of 2014; this was determined through both quantitative and qualitative means. Using the Aquagenx Compartment Bag Test, we discovered E. Coli in water tanks and pumps throughout the village. The panchayat doctor also informed us that diarrhea was a common ailment among residents. Furthermore, we identified water quantity as a pressing issue. Villagers must walk long distances in oppressive conditions (e.g. extreme heat) to access water. To complicate matters, many of the pumps lining the way are not functional.

During the 2014–2015 academic year, we attempted to find a way to address these issues. We partnered with another student organization, Engineering for a Sustainable World (ESW), to understand the topic in greater depth and collectively brainstorm solutions. Although we determined that tackling the foundational (systematic) issues underlying water quantity and even water quality would be a challenges best addressed later on, we did decide to attack problems of contamination at the level of individual households. Our proposed solution was the bio-sand filter — an easy to use, highly effective, long-lasting, locally manufactured technological solution. In order to aid our on-ground efforts near the village with logistics and manufacturing we began working with an NGO named SATHI (Social Awareness Through Human Involvement) located in Himachal Pradesh.

SATHI’s utilizes a transparent Bio-sand filter model to demonstrate usage and effectiveness to villagers

Our chapter’s 2015 trip to Bharog Baneri saw the implementation of the bio-sand filters envisioned by the Berkeley chapter of Project RISHI in partnership with ESW and SATHI. As a pilot effort, filters were installed in Pudli, a small ward in Bharog Baneri. This happened in three distinct phases: demonstration, transportation, and setup for final implementation. First, a handful of villagers were selected to a view a filtration demonstration hosted by SATHI project coordinators. The demonstration featured a miniaturized filter prototype and an educational lecture complete with a question and answers session. Once the actual filters were delivered to the village, RISHI team members assisted families moving filters into their homes. This not only fostered a sense of independent ownership for the villagers, but also served to strengthen community bonds between Project RISHI and Bharog Baneri. The third and final component of implementation involved configuring sand/gravel levels within individual filters and educating families on their usage, maintenance, and health benefits. Information circulated during in-home seminars was reinforced by the distribution of didactic literature such as pamphlets.

As of Fall 2015, RISHI Berkeley continues to receive regular reports from its partners at SATHI regarding usage and maintenance statistics. Insofar as these reports affirm that the filters are indeed playing an integral role in overall improving village health, RISHI Berkeley will continue to scale its efforts. The filters are easily manufactured with locally sourced materials and their functional lifetimes are estimated to range from between 25–35 years. As such, they are both sustainable and economically viable. It remains RISHI Berkeley’s objective to assist Bharog-Baneri in subsidizing costs associated with outfitting the remaining 40 households of Pudli — and eventually the entire village — with durable filters.

With the prospect of expanding this pilot installation looming large, the chapter now turns its efforts and enthusiasm toward fundraising. In the past, crowdfunding campaigns, national grant competitions, and on-campus projects have been instrumental in sponsoring water sanitation efforts abroad. However, our chapter financial directors must now seek creative, and perhaps unconventional means of financing accelerated growth. Exciting proposals and suggestions by project team members promise to distinguish the 2015–2016 year as one of our most ambitious years to date. Our future fundraising initiatives will determine if our primary efforts have the capacity to stay afloat in the upcoming years.

Author(s): Sneha Pang and Andrew Rimel

Originally published at www.projectrishi.org.