Bringing clean water to villages in India, the Singapore way

From building toilets to basic homes, some Singapore outfits are transforming the lives of communities in India, as profiled in the documentary Finding Singapore.
Desmond Ng Channel NewsAsia 4 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE – Living in Singapore, Marcus Lim never wanted for water. But when he arrived in India, he found that people had to walk for hours to collect water, which might be in short supply or, worse, contaminated.

Then there are the sanitation issues related to this lack of water and poor water quality - diseases like cholera, and poor crop harvests.

Said Mr Lim: “For me growing up in Singapore, I knew the value of water from an intellectual perspective. But I have never really experienced what it feels like to be short of water.”

Mr Lim and his India-born partner Stanley Samuel, as co-founders of Ecosoftt, decided to help villages in India with their water problems.

Headquartered in Singapore, Ecosoftt is a social enterprise that deals with decentralised water management. It is one of more than 100 water companies that have built up expertise across the water and wastewater treatment sectors in Singapore – and a number are now venturing abroad to help other communities.

The works of intrepid people and enterprises that are applying the lessons of Singapore’s development to impact communities elsewhere - specifically, India and Rwanda - are the subject of a Channel NewsAsia two-part documentary, Finding Singapore (premiering Tuesday, Feb 5, 8pm).

WHERE THEY ARE MOST NEEDED

In 2015, Ecosoftt helped to tackle a drought in the hamlet of Rampur Tola, near the city of Jabalpur. The plan was to give the villagers some degree of water security.

The company designed a water management system that was built by the community.

From having to walk for hours to get water, now every household had their own tap. New toilets and bathrooms were constructed, and they were connected to a sewage network system. Treated waste-water was then reused for gardening, landscaping, irrigation and other purposes.

Mr Lim said: “What gave me the greatest joy was that at the end of the project, the villagers came to us and said that now they have toilets, they have water, they have a safe place to bathe.

“And I was like, wow, you know, it’s such a basic thing that you could give to people and this would complete their lives.”

The company is currently working to help clean up one of India’s famous rivers, located in the holy city of Omkareshwar which is home to one of the most sacred Hindu temples in the land.

The city has a population of about 10,000 but the number of visitors goes up exponentially during major festivals - along with the quantum of sewage.

Ecosoftt built the city’s first sewage treatment plant last June, one of five facilities that will treat the sewage before it flows to the river.

These social impact projects have become a strategic part of its business. Said Mr Lim: “It is about providing technologies, expertise, human capital and financial resources to where they are most needed - which are communities that are facing water and sanitation and environmental challenges.

“You can’t get more challenging than that.”

SUPPORT IN SINGAPORE FOR NEW IDEAS

While Ecosoftt is tackling the water situation in India, two other Singapore-based outfits are addressing its problems of sanitation and homes.

The World Toilets Organization, headed by founder Jack Sim, is collaborating with local partners to provide safe and affordable sanitation to the rural population.

billionBricks, a non-profit organisation, has developed portable, insulated tents to protect the homeless and vulnerable from the extreme weather in India.

Founder Prasoon Kumar, a New Delhi native who moved to Singapore 10 years ago, said: “Singapore does a lot of experiments, a lot of new thinking... There’s a huge community which supports new ideas.

“At the end of the day, a lot of the things we’re doing requires a huge amount of mental strength and I think Singapore provides us that basis for strength.”

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