Rainwater for Humanity is a social enterprise initiated by Brown University students in collaboration with Mahatma Gandhi University School of Environmental Sciences, to address these problems. We provide affordable rainwater harvesting tanks to the people of Kuttanad by subsidizing the cost and offering a pay per use vending model to villagers. Each structure supplies a group of families with enough water for their drinking and cooking needs throughout the dry season, safeguarding community health. Further, the tanks save each family money and time that could be spent on education, income-generation, child care, and increasing the family’s quality of life.
In its first two years of operation, Rainwater for Humanity focused on optimizing the design of the traditional system to lower the cost, incorporate locally-available materials, and modify the tanks for the region’s soil conditions and climate.
We began by building four prototype tanks in Achinakom. The first tank – which was also the first sub-surface tank in the region – was completed in December 2009 and supplies drinking and cooking water for nineteen households. As of August 2010, three above-ground family tanks were also completed in Achinakom. One of the tanks was built with rebar reinforced ring construction, one with brick-and-mortar construction, and one was cast out of a mold. After evaluating the construction processes and the performances of the tanks, we chose to build ten more tanks using a mold-cast, circular design. This brings the total number of operational tanks in Achinakom, as of January 2013, to 14.
Although our focus has shifted to the implementation of the vending model, we’re continuing to experiment with the design. We’re most excited about a new construction material made out of vegetable fibers which has the potential to significantly lower the cost of the tanks, thus making clean water even more affordable in Achinakom.
The key to our ongoing success is a sustainable economic model created by a partnership between the user groups and Rainwater for Humanity. In cooperation with village residents and leaders, Rainwater for Humanity has developed payback plans so that we can provide cleaner and cheaper water for the families of Achinakom while ensuring an economically sustainable model that can impact as many families as possible in the region of Kuttanad.We have begun to implement a payback structure to ensure this sustainability. Users of the first four tanks pay a monthly fee toward their water user groups. This monthly fee is less than what they would spend on vendor water during the same month. Using the accumulated fund, the water user groups are able to manage and maintain the tanks. Each water user group elects a manager, usually a community leader, who manages the tank and oversees water distribution. At the same time, Rainwater for Humanity provides the managers with administration support, compensation, and tank maintenance services. We also track our impacts closely through water quality testing and user opinion surveys.
The economic model, as well as the tank design, will continue to be refined to bring clean and affordable water to as many households as possible.
Along with our partners at Mahatma Gandhi University School of Environmental Sciences, Rainwater for Humanity has been collaborating with the Asparawa Screwpine Society, a local 8000-member women’s self-help group; the households and the local users’ committees; and local masons and engineers. Through these leaders, we are able to run on-site operations backed by village trust and support.
Additionally, community leaders form Water User Groups (WUGs) in which project participants voice concerns, tank damages, or any other issues. Villagers are then able to receive the support they need. This system ensures community participation in the project and constant feedback.
As we expand into other locations, we plan to maintain this level of involvement with Rainwater for Humanity’s beneficiaries.