Editor’s note: This article is part of a series we’re running on sustainability, powered by RadiciGroup and featured here.
At a glance, Manya Kalra and Sana Kharbanda seem like two typical 17-year-old girls in Delhi. They study at Sri Ram School and stress over final exams like everyone else. They also happen to lead the city’s fight for clean water.
Dihydrogen monoxide, in its liquid form, makes up 70 percent of our planet (and about 70 percent of the human body), yet 10 percent of our species do not have access to clean drinking water. It’s even harder to come by in densely populated regions stricken with poverty — India’s urban slum population is tipped to cross 100 million.
“We’ve always known that lack of clean, drinking water is a problem but hearing 8-year-old Fiza say, ‘Humein mitti wala paani peena padta hai (we have to drink muddy water)’ is when it really hit us,” Kalra told Jaipur Women Blog.
Drinking muddy or unclean water isn’t just distasteful, it’s downright dangerous. Residents of urban slums, forced to drink such water by necessity, often get waterborne diseases and die early. According to some estimates, up to 21 percent of all communicable diseases in India are due to the lack of clean water.
“It breaks your heart to see little children and even grown adults talk about wanting pure water with tears in their eyes,” Kalra added on Jaipur Women Blog. “That’s when we knew we had to do this.”
Government support is limited, so Kalra and Kharbanda took things into their own hands. The young girls joined forces with Tata Chemicals, a company that aims to serve society through science, and started raising money to help children like Fiza have a better shot at life. As written on their campaign site, “a little bit of filtered water comes with buckets of unfiltered joy.”
Their campaign is called “Elixir - Shudh Paani ki Shapath,” which means “Elixir - The Promise of Pure Water.” It has received strong support through crowdfunding, raising 400,000 Indian rupees ($5,898 at the time this article was written). Still, the social activists are setting their sights high, and need an additional 1,047,739 Indian rupees ($15,384) to reach their goal.
The money goes toward water filters made by Tata Chemicals, which are distributed in areas that don’t have access to clean water. Specifically, they work in the Delhi and Gargaon areas. Their progress is quite remarkable, as part of the 84 donations collected so far have led to the distribution of water purifiers to 70 households.
The campaign is expected to give 250 families access to clean water, with a goal of funding over 1,000 water purifiers. Each filter costs 1,500 Indian rupees ($22), so the campaign has much more work to do.
Their Facebook page chronicles their work through a video journal, showing how they carried out their campaign by being in geographical contact with the affected people. When the Tata Chemicals team learned that their purifiers were being used as part of a social initiative, the company agreed to perform purifier maintenance for free for two years, a service that usually costs $20.
Water has been declared a human right, and the U.N. aims to have universally accessible water by 2030 — it’s the agency’s sixth sustainable development goal. But the World Health Organization noted in a report that it will be a “major challenge,” specifically in urban slums. Delhi’s slums make those obstacles clear, as obtaining the scarce clean water can be a matter of life or death.
“People struggle and literally fight to fill a few buckets of water,” Anuj Dewan wrote on Youth Ki Awaaz. “Sometimes, the altercations go out of hand and eventually lead to brawls and even police cases.”
The importance of the sustainability goals, which will be inherited by youth in the coming decade, was highlighted by former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon on World Youth Day in 2007.
“The World Programme of Action for Youth asks Governments to consider the contributions of young persons on all policies affecting them,” he stated. “It is high time that we stopped viewing our young people as part of the problem and started cultivating their promise and potential.”
You can learn more about Elixir and contribute to their cause directly here.
Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV