Solar-powered water kiosks? In these rural villages, yes.

Girl drinking water from pipe (AP Images)
A girl drinks water from a community well. Worldwide, women and girls spend 200 million hours collecting water each day. (AP Images)

The reality is grim: worldwide, 780 million people — one out of every nine — lack access to clean water.

Texas-born and Harvard-educated Anand Shah wanted a solution. After moving to India and starting IndiCorps, a community-service organization, he was ready for the challenge.

Shah joined the Piramal Foundation, an India-based charity that works to solve social and economic problems in that country.  There, he partnered with an Indian-American Stanford University graduate to try to improve the lives of people who live in rural areas in India.

The two developed Sarvajal, a business that used “water ATMs” — named for banks’ automatic teller machines — to purify and dispense water in remote villages.

Women filling water jug (Madhavi Wagh, Creative Commons)
A Sarvajal water kiosk in India. (Madhavi Wagh, Creative Commons)

The solar-powered kiosks connect to the local mobile phone network through sensors that transmit data about the quality and quantity of the water. Customers swipe prepaid smart cards and watch as water is filtered and dispensed.

“We know that [access to clean water] is a solvable issue,” Shah said. “There’s no reason why this problem should still exist.”

Secretary of State John Kerry agrees. “Water is…fundamental to our diplomatic and development goals — including health, economic growth, food security, gender equality and conflict mitigation. We know that when managed well, water allows economies to thrive and children to grow up healthy,” he said on World Water Day.

The water kiosks solve more than one problem. Besides clean water, they create jobs. Sarvajal franchises the kiosks to people in the community, generating local income.

Can you make a difference in your community?  Learn from other innovators who are improving access to food and water. Get ideas for cleaning and storing water at H2infO.