Aakash Ganga, a Community-Water-Utility Model for Rainwater Harvesting
Adapted U. S. utility industry model to harvest rainwater. Builds local infrastructure to end water scarcity for generations.
I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria, and based on its description, I am eligible to apply to the CSV Prize 2017.
Sustainable Innovations Inc.
Established (the solution has passed the previous stages and demonstrated success)
Annual budget in 2017 (USD)
Number of beneficiaries impacted so far
Nonprofit, NGO, or citizen sector
Headquarters location: Country
Headquarters location: City
12150 Monument drive, Suite# 400, Fairfax, VA 22033
Location(s) of impact
Region: Piloted in 6 villages: Lasedi, Raila, Harinagar, Indrasar, Kakreu Kalan, BITS Campus; Churu and Jhunjhunu area, Rajasthan.
Aakash Ganga ("River from the Sky" in Hindi) is a rainwater harvesting system specifically developed to assure safe drinking water to rural communities for generations. The program parallels a public utility model, where every homeowner in the community grants rights to harvest their rooftop rainwater. Through the gutters, spouts, and pipes the rooftop rainwater is channeled to at-home and community reservoirs.
A rainwater harvesting park will collect additional 6 million liters per village.
Rajasthan is one of the driest states in India. Due to the lack of lakes and rivers, the people of Rajasthan depend on aquifers, underground geological formations that contain water, for their water supply. India’s aquifers are losing 60 cubic miles annually - a rate that would turn Lake Erie into a dust bowl in two years.
Women in the villages clean their dishes with sand to conserve water for drinking. Water is the most precious commodity.
In rural villages, it is the women's or girls' job to fetch water for their families. The women will walk in groups, singing folklores to lessen the monotony, for several miles a day fetch water from the well or open pond. It is a chore that takes better part of their day. This prevents women from earning livelihood and girls from attending school.
Aakash Ganga promotes education, especially for girls.
Aakash Ganga stores clean, safe rainwater in a reservoir in the village courtyards. Women need to walk only a few steps, as opposed to few miles, to get water. The poor families get water from the community reservoir located at a few hundred feet from their homes.
Instead of a load of water, girls now carry a load of books.
This is the community reservoir in Raila. The community reservoirs provide drinking water to people living below the poverty line who cannot afford to invest in the system, or whose rooftops are unfit for the infrastructure and are therefore unable to collect rainwater. This ensures that everyone in the village has equal access to water.
GISCorp created a satellite map book of Sanwlod village. the map shows rooftops larger (red) or smaller (blue) than 145 square meters. Red rooftops are connected to the community reservoir. Map books minimize earthwork, eliminate costly surveys, and assign a unique number to each reservoir to fix its location -- villages don’t have street names and house numbers. By automating rooftop measurement, map books enable accurate estimation of rainwater volume to be captured from each rooftop.
“It used to take 4 hours (for me to fetch water for my family) and now it takes 4 minutes. My youngest daughter is in college. My mind and heart are at peace.” - Nirmala Devi, Lasedi.
Vimla Devi is a resident of Harinagar. The groundwater has receded to several hundred feet depth and has high concentration of nitrates and fluorides (exceeding WHO limits by 10 to 30 times). Because of the minerals, she had perennial inflammation in her joints. Now she has Aakash Ganga's clean safe drinking water. When SI visited with her, she thanked Aakash Ganga for “no more inflammation in my joints.”
Aakash Ganga improves health.
Kamruddin is the principal of the local school in Kakreu Kalan. The school didn’t have “sweet water” in the school, and the local groundwater had high content of minerals and tasted salty. The day time temperature hovers around 110 F. Children would rush home in the scorching heat to get a drink of sweet water.
Since Aakash Ganga built a rainwater reservoir, observed Kamruddin, “the children didn’t skip classes to rush home for the drink of sweet water.”
Bhagwati Devi is the resident of Raila village. When asked how Aakash Ganga had benefitted her, she responded, “My cow’s milk doubled because of Aakash Ganga.” Prior to Aakash Ganga she didn't have enough water for her dairy animals.
Aaksh Ganga betters livelihood.
The rainwater that Aakash Ganga collects and stores is free of contaminants and bacteria that cause illnesses such as diarrhea, which is one of the leading causes of death among children under 5 years old in India.
With clean water available right at their doorsteps, girls are now free to get an education.They carry the load of books, not of water.
Aakash Ganga leases the rooftops from homeowners and installs pipes to collect the monsoon rains that lasts for 45 to 60 days. The rainwater is split in two halves; one half is stored in the homeowner's reservoir for their exclusive use, and the other half is channel to the community reservoir that serves the poor people. The 50/50 sharing ensures socially equitable distribution of water and promotes social harmony.
Reservoir Capacity in liters: At-home 25,000 and community 500,000.
The International Energy Globe Awards were instituted by the Austria-based Energy Globe Foundation. The awards recognize projects for their environmental sustainability in four categories: Water, Fire, Earth, and Youth Development. In 2010, Aakash Ganga won not only the award in the Water category, but the World Award in all categories for its sustainability.
B.P. Agrawal was one of the Top Ten CNN Heroes in 2015 for Aakash Ganga. CNN's Anderson Cooper and Hollywood actor Sharon Stone honored Dr. Agrawal at the "An All Star tribute" that was aired worldwide.
Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?
The world’s aquifers are being pumped dry. In India, aquifers are irreversibly losing 60 cubic miles annually. In Rajasthan, women spend hours to fetch water daily; 40,000 villages face water scarcity.
Problem: India wants to harvest rainwater. Lacks development model to thrive amid its 1. Entitlement culture (people expecting free water); 2. Trust deficit (communities don't trust public institutions); 3. Societal segregation (upper caste don't partake water from lower caste); Gender inequality (It's women's chore.)
Solution Summary: What is the proposed solution? What do you see as its most promising aspects for creating shared value?
Solution: Aakash Ganga or AG, a rainwater harvesting system, adapted the US utility industry model to ensure systemic sustainability. Analogous to acquisition of passage or spectrum rights by the utility industry, AG acquires rainwater harvesting rights from homeowners and local governments. Like the public utility commission (PUC), a consumer watchdog, a village elders' committee, 50% women participants, sets policy for equitable access to water.
With life-span of 25 years, AG's shared value lasts for a generation. Its most promising aspects are: 1. Co-ownership by the people and communities; 2. Empowering people to conduct daily audit, online daily audit, of the program; 3. Monetizing traditions and social bonds. The daily audit is the ultimate standard of transparency/accountability; builds trust with us and with AG.
It took 8 years to perfect AG for cultural, operational, economic, institutional, technological, societal, political, and environmental sustainability
Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Specify both the social and the environmental impact of your work
Piloted in six villages, home to 10,000 people. Built 214 structures. Collects 15 million liters of rainwater annually. Costs $0.02 per thousand liter capacity.
Social Impact: Delivers 25,000 liters of clean water per family. Weaned people off free-water entitlement culture. Equitable access to water created social harmony. Daily audit restored trust in community-based programs. Freed women to earn livelihood, girls to get an education, and children of water-borne diseases.
Financial Impact: Each village contributed $20,000. Local gov't contributed 10,000 Sq. Meter land. A first in India. Digital technologies, satellite imaging and geographical information system eliminated surveys. Saved $5,000 per village. Cut design period from 12 to 2 weeks.
Water Resource Management: Remote IT-based monitoring of water quality and quantity. Capacity 1 million reservoirs.
Leadership: Builds local capacity. Online knowledge repository enables speedy replication by others.
Financial sustainability plan: How is this initiative financially supported? How will you ensure its financial sustainability long-term?
Current: 100% funding from U.S. foundations, individual donors, and Indian diaspora. Mitigated risks of co-investment by people; social and political upheavals, and local government resistance.
Pursuing two-pronged strategy for scale up. A. Partner with commercial companies to acquire rainwater harvesting rights for every village in India. Build a water utility in every village.
B. Form public-private-consumer partnership (PPCP) wherein Gov't to provide 80% capital and 20% by the private sector and beneficiaries. The government's prerequisite is that PPCP should demonstrate sustainability in 50-villages and mitigate the risks. Sustainable Innovations aims to raise $5 million from philanthropic ventures and donors for the 50-village demonstration.
Unique value proposition: What makes your initiative innovative? How does your project differ from other organizations working in the same field?
Water solutions such as Water ATMs, bore wells, and Play Pumps work when ground water is plentiful but hasten aquifer depletion.
Big Idea: Aakash Ganga births a new industry – a federation of local water-utilities -- to harvest rainwater in every village.
Value proposition: Accepts India as “it-is”. Doesn’t seek behavior change, glacially slow. Monetizes ancient traditions and social bonds. AG is systemically sustainable, culturally, politically, economically, and operationally.
Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that sparked the beginning of this initiative.
In 2003, I acquired the intellectual property rights from the Eastern Virginia Bankruptcy Court to start a new venture. I invited a few friends for dinner to raise seed capital. In between the samosa bites, we talked of giving back to solve social problems, like water scarcity, in our homeland, India. Suddenly, a friend thumped the coffee table and asked, “What difference would it make, even if we were to give $100 million to India?” The conversation came to abrupt halt, meaning money may not make a difference.
If not money, then what will make difference? That was my "aha!" moment.
Months later, I realized that India needs a systemically sustainable development model to replace its "build-neglect-rebuild" model (IRC Water and Sanitation Center, Holland). I started to innovate a development model to end water scarcity in rural India. And Aakash Ganga was born.
Where did you hear about the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Prize?