Jalmitra Safe Drinking Water Program

In July 2010 the Times of India reported that the United Nations passed a resolution that access to clean water and sanitation is a human right. There are currently 884 million people without access to safe drinking water and more than 2.6 billion do not have access to basic sanitation. Each year over 1.5 million children die due to water and sanitation related diseases.

The UN General Assembly received 122 votes in favour of the resolution which read in part "the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation is a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of the right to life". The resolution also called on member states and international organizations to offer funding to help poorer countries to scale up their efforts to provide clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for everyone.

It is a sad reflection on our world that while most developing countries voted for the resolution, 44 countries abstained. Several developed countries abstained on the grounds that the resolution did not spell out the nature of the obligation to make this human right a reality.

We, at Parinaam Foundation and Ujjivan Financial Services with the strong support of Hindustan Unilever Limited, are proud to announce that in April of 2010, we started the process of providing clean and safe drinking water to Ujjivan's 750000+ women members and their families across the length and breadth of Urban and Semi-Urban India. The HUL safe water device called "Pureit" has been offered to poor families at interest-free microfinance loans by Ujjivan. In addition, Parinaam will provide the device for free to families in its Urban Ultra Poor Program who cannot afford to pay for it. We called this program the Jalmitra Program (jal meaning water; mitra meaning friend). This program has been completed, with the following number of Pureit-devices being distributed all over India:

RegionNo. Of BranchesNo. Of JalmitrasLoans Given
South Region4484 35032
North Region 35 382
East Region 2548 7359
West Region 2132 4518
Grand Total 93169 47291

Perhaps someone needs to inform the abstainer countries, that all it took was a first step by one international organization to partner with a microfinance company and an NGO, and a strong sense of social responsibility to provide a basic human right to the poor and made it a reality.

Elaine Marie Ghosh

Details of the Jalmitra Program:

Parinaam developed and launched the Jalmitra Program with the support of a grant from HUL.

The program is 2-fold:

  1. Creating and increasing awareness, through audio-visuals aids at centre meetings and during house visits, of the importance of safe drinking water and the dangers of disregarding the same
  2. Disseminating information among Ujjivan customers on the interest-free loan for Pure-it' water purifier

As part of the program, we select women from Ujjivan's customer base, train them to spread awareness on clean water and disseminate information on safe water solutions within their communities.

More than a billion people across the globe don't have access to safe water. Every day 3900 children die as a result of insufficient or unclean water supplies. The World Bank estimates that 21% of communicable diseases in India are water related. In 2010, diarrhoea killed more than 210,000 children aged less than five years in India; that's more than 25% of the total deaths globally. 80% of doctor visits are because of children and adults have fallen sick due to bad drinking water. It is not the middle-upper class that is affected but it is predominantly the very people who may also be served by microfinance institutions in India.

Many low-income communities in India lack access to safe drinking water and most importantly, lack awareness. Unfortunately, the last thing on their minds after working 12-14 hour days is to spend time boiling their water to make it safe to drink. We observed this not only in our beneficiaries' lives but also with our field staff.

To provide a way out of these grim conditions, we decided to facilitate an easy-to-use water purifier for the urban poor, one which did not need electricity or running water, access to both of which are limited for the slum dwellers. Parinaam and Ujjivan partnered with Hindustan Unilever Ltd. (HUL) to provide customers and Ujjivan staff with interest-free loans to purchase HUL's 'Pureit' water purification device.

For the poor urban women who are selected to train their communities on clean water and safe water solutions, this program offers an opportunity of a well-paying livelihood as well as to be actively involved in community development through health education on safe drinking water. HUL is rolling out the Jalmitra program to other MFIs and their customers.

Case study

Savitha, a 40-year-old Ujjivan customer did not want to take a loan for her son's engineering college fees. Her husband supplied food products to FMCG outlets and kept his family afloat. However, higher education costs a tremendous amount of money and when it was time to pay the fees, the family had to scramble. So, Savitha convinced her family that she would take up work and not borrow for the fees. Her family and friends were skeptical because of her age and lack of business experience. She had dropped out of school before completing her 7th grade.

Savitha joined as a Jalmitra and ranked the "Best Jalmitra" amongst 140 women all over India and being the only one to earn a bonus after 6 months. She took up the responsibility of her children's education, paying her son's college fees for both years and even managed to save a further Rs. 12000. She used this to help buy her husband a bike so that he didn't have to struggle and cycle all over on his job.

Her success has given her abundant confidence and her dream now is to eventually start her own business. She is thankful to Parinaam and Ujjivan for having given her the opportunity to do something on her own and excel in the work.