12 October 2012

AguaClara in South Asia

I was invited by the World Bank to give a presentation on AguaClara at a conference in Nepal. The conference was attended by government officials from 7 countries in South Asia (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bhutan). Although this is the middle of my very busy fall semester I couldn't turn this opportunity down. I've long wondered what the demand for AguaClara would be in this highly populated part of the world.The total population of the 7 countries is 1.6 billion.
I scheduled my visit so that I was able to tour 3 water treatment plants that serve Kathmandu on my first day. None of the plants had the ability to dose chemicals in a way that allowed the operator to set the dose. The chlorinators at each plant had failed and the improvised systems were variations on a hole in bucket. The oldest plant was built by India in 1966 (and dedicated by Indira Ghandi). It had an odd combination of coagulation, sedimentation, and rapid sand filters and was missing the flocculation step. The influent water was relatively clean on the day I visited and they weren't dosing coagulant at any of the plants. 

I was most surprised to learn that none of these plants had a turbidimeter. The only record keeping maintained by the operators was the flow rate entering the plant and the flow rate exiting the plant. I learned that during the rainy season they sometimes have to backwash every 1 to 2 hours and that means that over 50% of the water is being wasted in backwash due to the inefficient performance of their flocculation/sedimentation system.
Advertisement for "talk program" to Nepali engineers

I used my connections to network to a well placed engineer in the Nepali water sector and he arranged for me to give a presentation to Nepali water sector engineers on my second day. 50 engineers showed up and my introduction to AguaClara was very well received. There was an hour of questions!

World Bank conference venue
The World Bank meeting began on the 3rd day with a focus on rural water supply and sanitation. I was the last speaker before dinner after a very long day of presentations filled with statistics, high level policy, and an emphasis of the role of community based organizations. I knew I had to do something to wake up the crowd and get their attention. And I only had 15 minutes to introduce AguaClara. I began by defining the difference between improved and safe water and then asked the delegates to stand if they drank the water from their tap in the city where they lived. About 7 people stood. I quickly realized that most of the people who were standing were World Bank personnel who weren't from South Asia and so I asked those who weren't from South Asia to sit down. That left two people standing of the 130 delegates. This little survey suggests that the need for safe drinking water in South Asia is likely very close to 1.6 billion, the total population of the region.

Abandoned chemical feed pumps at the
newest Kathmandu plant.
I made the case that technology matters and presented the 1x1x1x1x1x0=0 equation indicating that if ANY of the requirements for a sustainable project including technology are a zero, that the project will fail. I briefly presented AguaClara and emphasized our open source-zero patents, zero electricity, and online performance monitoring. The zero electricity got everyone's attention. Here in Kathmandu the power goes out many times per day and in the upcoming dry season they are expecting 19 hours of NO electricity per day. Electricity shortages are prevalent throughout South Asia.

After my presentation there were many very good questions, more than after any of the other presentations at the conference. And after my presentation delegates from each of the seven countries expressed a desire to see AguaClara in their country. World Bank officials and the representative from Australian AID were also keenly interested with informal discussions about the role of the Bank in getting the first demonstration plants built.

The delegation from Kerala State in India was the most direct in asking for a meeting and wanting to discuss details of what technical support we can offer and requesting a proposal from us in the next week to get this program started.

There are a couple of significant observations from this conference. First, I went to Nepal with the goal of “testing the water” to see what the level of interest would be. I also wanted to learn what the situation on the ground was like. I learned that the technology failure modes that we see in Honduras are much worse in Nepal and that there is a high level of excitement about our new technologies. A final observation is that water treatment across the region is not trusted, and at least in the case of Nepal, that lack of trust was earned. The opportunity for AguaClara Consulting Engineers to provide technical backstopping and retrofits for conventional water treatment plants that have failed is enormous. We could go replace pumped chemical systems with the AguaClara chemical dosing system and design improvements in the unit processes.

The high demand for AguaClara in South Asia suggests that AguaClara Consulting Engineers could become an economically viable organization much faster than we had previously assumed. We will need to act quickly and with a clear strategy to capture the momentum that we have created.

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