International teamwork brings clean drinking water to 20,000 villagers in Kerala
March 12, 2018 - Allapuzha, Kerala, India
“If we can help make clean drinking water for people, we can reduce their sicknesses. They will be able to live healthy lives,” says Reo Hirata, a Science and Technology student from Ritsumeikan University, Japan. “I could undertake the challenge with a sense of mission.”
Hirata was part of a team of seventy-one students from Japanese universities who visited the Allapuzha District in Kerala to help build water filtration systems. “Friendship between India and Japan lasts forever!” was their unifying call. The Japanese students’ work joins that of 140 students from Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham.
Over the course of ten days, the Japanese students built water-filtration systems that were conceptualised and designed by Amrita students and staff according to the needs of local people. Installations took place in 36 communities and now reach about 20,000 people. The completed systems are maintained by the villagers under the leadership of local administrators, which also gives a sense of empowerment.
The construction is part of the Jivamritam Project at Amrita. The goal is to bring clean drinking water to more than 5,000 villages across India within one year, depending upon decisions by local governments. Honourable President of India, Sri Ram Nath Kovind, and Amma launched the $15,390,000.00 USD (Rs 100 Crore) initiative in October 2017 at the Mata Amritanandamayi Math. One hundred thousand people in need of clean drinking water have already been reached across India.
“I have taken many classes in my subject, but I really wanted to do something in the field, make something with my own hands, make something for poor people,” declared Nane Tahaku from Ritsumeikan University, Japan. “Water is something that everyone needs, especially clean drinking water.”
The Japanese students unanimously agree that their main motivation for participating in the programme is the opportunity to serve people in their real life situations. For them, access to safe and clean drinking water is a basic human right and not a commodity. They worked two to three part-time jobs in their homeland to save enough money for their flights to India so they could participate.
Maki Saito is a Developmental Studies student from Tokyo University, Japan. She explains, “Growing up in Japan, my family and I never faced the problem of not having clean water, so, I didn’t really think about it much. However, once I found out that many people who live in villages in India do not have this basic need, I wanted to do something about it. How could I live here drinking clean water knowing that someone else just like me, living in India, doesn’t have that same right?”
According to WaterAid India, approximately 76 million people in the country lack access to clean drinking water and more than 60,000 children, especially under the age of five years, die each year from poor sanitation and diarrheal diseases caused by drinking impure water. According to UNICEF India, 67% of Indian households do not treat their drinking water, even though it could be contaminated with harmful bacteria and chemicals.
Causes of water contamination vary. High population density, chemical farming, overuse of fertilisers, presence of minerals in the coastal beds, and run-off from factory waste force people, especially those who live in rural communities, to consume contaminated water. Other obstacles to clean drinking water are distance and cost. Many villagers have to walk several kilometres to find potable water.
“The Jivamritam System uses a dual filter made of sand and activated carbon to remove suspended particles and turbidity from the water, followed by micron filters,” explains Dr. Maneesha Sudheer, head of the Jivamritam Project.
“Each system also includes an ultraviolet water-purifier to remove pathogenic contamination, as well as two storage tanks (2,000-litre inlet and 1,000-litre outlet) to keep treated and untreated water separate. The filtered-water tanks are integrated with taps to provide drinking water for 400 to 500 families.”
The visit of the Japanese students was coordinated by Amrita’s Live-in-Labs Programme, which works with various university projects to give students from across India and around the world a chance to experience and understand the ground-level challenges faced by people in rural communities. Through these observations, the students can help to develop and provide solutions.
“To make the water filtration systems was challenging for me. But Indian craftsmen taught me with great patience and kindness,” concludes Hirata. “After the work, I received a lot of love from Amma when she gave me her darshan. I think someone who gives love to so many people and wishes them peace is an incredible thing. The time spent in India has become irreplaceable.”