Mumbai, Dec.7: For centuries Indians have known of the cleansing properties of rice husk ash — a gritty grey substance used by poor villagers to clean their teeth.
Now it is hoped that a gadget that combines the same humble ash with the latest nano technology will revolutionise the supply of safe drinking water to the world’s impoverished masses.
Standing 2ft tall, the Tata Swach resembles a snazzy water cooler. It has not been designed for posh offices, however, but for cramped village huts and tiny city slum shacks. The germ-laden water is poured into the top, and the clear liquid that emerges meets the latest American regulations on water purification standards. Its makers claim that it will provide for a family of five for 30 rupees (40p) a month.
The potential market is vast: across the developing world one billion people do not have access to safe drinking water, according to the World Health Organisation.
The gadget, named after the Hindi word for clean, is priced within reach of poor Indians, its inventors say. It does not need a source of running water or electricity — key factors in a country where 400 million people are not connected to the national grid.
“This opens up a complete new market,” said R. Mukundan, an executive of Tata, which owns Jaguar Land Rover in Britain. “It doesn’t compete with any existing product.”
The key component is a replaceable filter that uses rice husk ash as a matrix, to which microscopic particles of silver are attached to kill the bacteria that cause waterborne disease. The filter can be used to purify 3,000 litres before it needs to be replaced — enough to last the average Indian family 200 days, Tata said.
Demand is likely to be strong in India, where a dire shortage of safe water is approaching crisis levels. India’s middle classes may be enjoying an economic renaissance but diarrhoea, a preventable disease, will kill about 380,000 poor children across the sub-continent this year.
Last week a man died during a riot over a shortage of water in Mumbai, one of India’s most developed cities.