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Something in the water

Mumbai’s water woes extend to the inconveniences caused by its scarcity. But for rural India, the problem goes much deeper. While working in the region in 2005, former electrical engineer Suprio Das discovered the presence of arsenic in Kolkata’s groundwater. On further research, he realised the scale of water contamination in rural Bengal. “In 2009, I started thinking about the need for a simple device that could provide clean water at affordable prices,” says Das. And the idea for Zimba was born.


Innovator Suprio Das with Zimba, a device that automatically treats impure water by fortifying it with chlorine. Pic courtesy/Suprio Das

“I conducted various in-house trials,” he explains. “I spent a lot of time fine-tuning the device and fixing minor glitches. It was only in 2011 that I had a functional device in my hands.” To see how it works in real-time, Das installed a beta version of sorts in a village in West Bengal for a day.

The user feedback he received from that experiment helped him install efficient versions in a few slums in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in February this year. “Now I’m all set to connect one in a slum in West Bengal’s Howrah district,” says Das. “It will be ready for use this week and is expected to help around 300 families.” A few months ago, he installed Zimba in a small village in Orissa. Soon, he hopes to extend the project to another slum in Kolkata and subsequently a few villages in West Bengal.

Das has previously worked on projects that involved generating electricity through pedalling and a hand-powered cellphone charger. “There are many issues among the rural poor that need to be addressed,” Das believes. “But for now, I’m going to concentrate on making Zimba available on a larger scale.” He was unable to see his previous projects through to their end due to time constraints.

“Water is something that is very essential,” he says, elaborating on his decision to focus on this device. “In the city, most people have a basic water filter. But in these villages, where they don’t have any such facilities, a lot of water-borne diseases especially before and during the monsoon prevail.” Das intends to make the basic necessity of potable water affordable and accessible to the poor.

“The Zimba resembles a box where the untreated water flows in,” Das explains. “The appropriate amount of chlorine is automatically dispensed to purify it and the unpolluted water comes out through a tap or handpump attached to the device.” Chlorine treatment at public water sources is a highly cost-effective method of water purification.

Presently the Zimba is priced at Rs 5,000. “But this cost will come down if it is mass-manufactured,” says Das. “Making a single device also takes a lot of time. If someone asks me to provide 100 devices, I’ll be in trouble. It will take me 200 days to make them even though I outsource certain features.” Right now there are only a handful of these devices available in the market. Das is looking at corporate sponsors who will be able to fund its mass production and distribution.

“In one of Dhaka’s slums, the people had actually permanently attached the Zimba to the ground because they didn’t want it to be taken away,” laughs Das. “That was a pretty firm stamp of approval. In another instance, an old lady came up to me and told me how happy she was with the Zimba and how much it had done for the benefit for her and her community.” It’s instances like these that make Das truly happy and motivate him to work harder for his people.
If you want to get involved in the project, email Das at firefly.power@yahoo.comĀ 

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