35 water systems
14,400 people with clean water

  • Population:
  • Population living below $1.25 a day:
  • Life expectancy:
    66 years
  • Under 5 mortality rate:
    56 per 1,000 live births
  • Water1st Local Partner Organization:
    Akashayanagar Pallisri Sangha

Source: UNICEF

India is a country experiencing incredible economic growth, which is driving the emergence of a large middle class. In spite of this encouraging trend, India is still home to a vast population of extremely poor people. Layering the demographic of age distribution over income distribution, one finds that many of India’s young people live in very challenging living environments. Subsequently, over 2 million Indian children under the age of five die each year, with water-related illnesses being one of the leading causes of childhood death. Access to clean water, toilets, and hygiene education would result in a major shift in child health statistics worldwide.

The Sundarban region of West Bengal is one of the most impoverished regions of the entire Indian sub-continent. Here, many people live below the poverty line as subsistence fisherman. Villagers collect water from unprotected ponds, canals, and marshes as the shallow wells are too saline for drinking. Consequently, many children in the region suffer from chronic diarrheal illnesses, permanently stunting their mental and physical development.

Since 2005, Water1st has partnered with Akashayanagar Pallisri Sangha (APS) to assist rural communities in the South 24 Parganas District of West Bengal to drill deep wells and build household toilets.

Our Progress

From the Field

Our India Program

From 2006-2010, Water1st provided grants to our Indian partner organization, APS, to work with rural communities to implement water, sanitation, and health-education projects.

Water Supply: drilled wells and hand pumps

Projects consist of drilling deep wells and installing locally-manufactured Mark II hand pumps. Individual households construct a pour-flush pit toilet to eliminate the spread of disease. Households participate in a hygiene-education program to learn the health benefits of hygiene practices such as hand washing.

Maintenance and Repairs: local water committees

A local Water Committee, composed entirely of women, is elected to manage each project. Households pay a user fee to the water committee to cover the cost of replacement parts and ongoing maintenance costs. The water committee is also responsible for monthly preventative maintenance of the hand pumps, such as greasing the chain and tightening the flange bolts and nuts.

Leadership of Women

The role of women in our projects is critical. Because women are traditionally responsible for collecting the household’s daily water supply, they have a vested interest in the management of their system. Our local partner works with communities to form Women’s Self-Help Groups, and women serve in leadership roles on the water committee.

Revolving Loan Fund

Households repay 40% of the construction cost of the well and their household toilet in the form of a microloan. Micro-lending for water projects is rare in rural areas with limited cash economies. The upfront loans serve as an indicator of the community’s level of commitment to the project and the likelihood they will succeed in maintaining their system over the long run.

Current Program Status + Water1st Follow-Up

In 2011, Water1st made the decision to suspend active funding for the construction of new projects through our India partner, APS. This decision was based primarily on our conclusion that the program was at capacity and was not likely to evolve further through our participation. We had hoped for improvements in the community organizing elements of APS, including the training of plumbers and the consistent collection of monthly water fees. Setting up a community to independently own and operate their system is the cornerstone of the Water1st process, and these goals were not being realized. After a couple years of intentional efforts to improve those elements, we did not observe APS making significant changes during our field visits. Based on the lack of observable results, we concluded that our partner did not have the desire or expertise to make adjustments to their programs.

Our loan program continues and new water points and toilets are being constructed using revolving loan funds that we initiated. We continue the ongoing monitoring of existing projects as we evaluate our options for future funding. In the meantime, resources that went to our India partner have been redirected to other programs, allowing other partners to increase their rate and volume of project implementation.

Access to water and toilets is without question a key ingredient to reducing childhood illness and death, and the best investment you can make to help people escape poverty. And grassroots funding from individuals is an intentional part of our strategy to support projects that endure.