“Water and sanitation is the basic necessity of life that gets compromised due to climate change impacts. With this project Sun-Vill WASH we could enable the vulnerable communities of Sundarbans with climate preparedness and as well make them free from water-poverty trap.” — Dr. Dipayan Dey, Design & Innovation Lead, Sun-Vill Solar Water ATM

Globally, one in three people do not have access to safe drinking water, and around 1.8 billion people use untreated drinking water, contaminated by human feces and dangerous pollutants.

Unsafe water is a major contributing factor to diseases such as diarrhea, cholera, and typhoid. According to UNICEF, children under 5 are more likely to die from diarrheal disease linked to unsafe water than from conflict and war. Around the world, 80 percent of waste-water flows back to the environment with no treatment.

Moreover, when water is not available in the home, the burden of collecting it falls mostly on women and children, keeping them from attending school or gaining a decent job. Women and children around the world spend a collective 200 million hours gathering water.

Photo credit — Left: Ritesh Arya / Right: USAID India

In Sundarbans, a region on the coastal districts of West Bengal in India, the majority of rural households do not have access to clean drinking water and must often rely on water sources from hand-pumps or public standpipe connections that can be unsafe. On average, it takes 3–4 hours a day to collect the two pots of water, and in many areas, even longer.

The majority of local inhabitants, marginal indigenous communities, remain trapped in an energy-water-poverty nexus, consistently ostracized from mainstream development and victims of extreme climate events.

Photo credit: Solar Water ATM treatment plant

Looking to address the issue through community-led intervention, the South Asian Forum for Environment (SAFE), in partnership with HSBC, launched a 3- year project, Sun-Vill Solar Water ATM. The project leverages solar technology and innovation to ensure a 24/7 supply of safe drinking water, hygienic sanitation and harvested surface water to nearly 10,000 coastal families in the Sundarbans region.

“This project in our village will change our life, now I can save a lot of money, as this water comes in good quality at a nominal fee.” — Namita Mandal, local resident

The first Sun-Vill unit was launched in 2017 in Gosaba, near the local hospital. It aimed to provide safe drinking water to priority groups, such as patients, pregnant women, children and senior citizens. With six solar-run water ATM facilities now installed, the Solar Water ATM network also provides new jobs for the community and significantly reduces the amount of time spent on water collection.

Photo credit: Solar Water ATM

The Solar Water ATMs use solar energy to pump water from rivers, wells, ponds or groundwater — depending on the location. The water is then treated with UV light and ozone generator. The systems can also desalinize water. Another key feature is the storage of rejected water, which cannot be drunk, but is stored in a separate tank and can be used it for cleaning, washing, irrigation and other uses. This helps prevent water wastage and promotes its optimal use.

Photo credit: Solar Water ATM

In addition to equitable access to water, energy and sanitation, the cyclical design of the Sun-Vill system also fosters new opportunities for economic and social development through the region. The project has lowered the incidence of poverty and social vulnerability and augmented community resilience through entrepreneurship and preparedness. The facilities are also women-centred, with over 51% of those involved in the operation being female, typically those between 18–50 years of age who had previously worked as part of informal sectors in the area.

With continued improvements to its design delivery and approach, Sun-Vill Solar Water ATM project coordinators hope to one day see their solution adopted in other areas across the continent.

This project aims to address the following UN Sustainable Development Goals: 3. Ensure health and well-being, 4.5 Increase access to education, especially for girls; 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; 6.1 Achieve access to safe and affordable drinking water for all

WDO’s World Design Impact Prize™ was established in 2011 to honour and elevate industrial design driven projects that benefit society. The award aims to bring visibility and recognition to socially responsible design initiatives around the world.

View the other World Design Impact Prize 2021 shortlisted projects.