About the challenge

HSBC Electronic Data Processing India Pvt. Ltd

Sundarbans, the rural coastal districts of West Bengal in India, has the largest mangrove in the world and is a biodiversity-rich world heritage site in the Gangetic Delta famous for, among other things, the Royal Bengal Tiger. The area is inhabited by 0.5 million indigenous marginal communities, who are victims of extreme climate events and remain trapped in an energy-water-poverty nexus, consistently ostracized from mainstream development.

It is calculated that six hours are lost per household per day to fetch bottled drinking water at often unreasonably high prices in Gosaba Block, where 90 new tube wells have been dug in an area of 0.3 km, denying equitable access to all the communities that use them. 

Currently, 400 tube wells in this block are depleting 300-350 litres of groundwater per day for irrigation. 18% of these tube wells are already defunct and 7% are delivering saline water. Seawater inundation of the local farmland has increased the salinity of shallow tube wells water to 800 ppm, which is neither suitable for drinking nor irrigation. Deep tube wells of average depth of 1200 ft, installed by the Public Health and Engineering Division have put the community at high risk of arsenic and heavy metal contamination. Climate justice is grossly denied here.

An estimated 79% of economically challenged Indians still lack access to safe water and improved sanitation facilities. As of 2010, the UN estimation based on Indian statistics shows that 626 million people still practice open defecation. In June 2012, Indian Minister of Rural Development stated that India is the world’s largest “open air toilet”. According to Indian norms, access to improved water supply exists, if at least 40 litres/capita/day of safe drinking water are provided within a distance of 1.6 km. At the moment, households are forced to supplement a deficient public water service at a prohibitive coping cost, roughly 35% of their income in the rural sector.

About the solution

The Solar Water ATM project commenced under HSBC Water Programme with four facilities in urban slums and proved to be extremely successful. This was the groundwork for the six WASH interventions in Sundarbans, each comprising five KVA solar PV, 500 LPH water treatment RO facility, 12 bio-sanitation units, one 3 cubic meters bio-methanation plant and 4 community solar lights were installed while remaining carbon neutral

The total facility has a solar energy potential of 30 KVA, dispensing 18 thousand litres of safe drinking water every day (500 litres per hour x 6 hours x 6 plants) to 1800 households (roughly consuming 10 litres per household per day) in six vulnerable villages. It also generates nearly 60 cubic metres of biogas per month and 60 metric tons of bio-manures to facilitate organic farming with a production potential of nearly 1.5 metric tons of fresh organic vegetables in a production cycle of 4-6 months. 

The establishment of these facilities is women-centered, with the total number of women engaged by WASH at 4 600 (51.72%), which is just above the local average. These women are typically between 18-50 years of age and previously worked as fishers or in informal sectors in the area.

The cyclic design of the intervention leverages circular economic benefits for freeing them from poverty and social vulnerability as well augmenting community resilience through women entrepreneurship and preparedness.

It has empowered women against abuse and trafficking, eased out health emergencies and enthused entrepreneurship among youth.