Shishir Water sells purified water for as little as Tk10 per household in rural areas where people drink contaminated river water and arsenic laced groundwater
Using latest innovations in water purifying technology, Bangladeshi startup Shishir Water has set out to provide purified water for consumption to poor communities across Bangladesh.
Despite an abundance of water in its river-laden geography, Bangladesh actually lacks an adequate national program of monitoring and ensuring quality drinking water, a recent World Health Organization study concluded.
The problem is further compounded by reliance on arsenic contaminated groundwater. The study found “large differences” in quality of service between rural, peri-urban and urban areas, causing communities to resort to sources of poor quality water.
Over 65 percent people in the country don’t have access to safe water, with 41 percent of people drinking water from sources with faecal contamination, according to Bangladesh government figures.
This vast need for pure drinking water is what Shishir Water aims to address. A joint venture social business initiative by YY Goshti and Grameen Telecom Trust, the company uses the UV LED water cleaning technology - originally developed by Swedish company Watersprint - to produce clean potable water for the poor population in contamination affected areas of Bangladesh.
Shishir Water set up its first plant in Mymensingh and currently serving clean water to thousands in the local communities using Watersprint’s purification technology, which enables disinfecting contaminated water using short-wavelength ultraviolet (UV-C) light.
The plant in Mymensingh draws water from the Brahmaputra river through a pipeline and purifies it using Watersprint’s unit.
However, for river water in Bangladesh the water first needs to get ‘Alum treatment’ before it gets passed through the unit. This involves cleaning the water with non-toxic aluminium sulfate.
“This is a social business and it is specifically intended to serve the most disadvantaged, poor communities in the country,” said Shazeeb M Khairul Islam, managing director of YY Goshti, which owns the Shishir Water brand.
Currently customers can buy 20 litres of water from the plant for Tk10. But the price needs to be flexible, said Shazeeb, because it has to account for delivery charge when water is not bought from the plant directly. Shazeeb says it is still very affordable for a household of five or six people that needs 20 litres of water a day.
Despite that the target demographic is typically reluctant to pay for what they see as ‘simply river water’. “People in the rural areas don’t want to pay for drinking water, no matter how reasonable the price is,” said Shazeeb. There is also a lack of education about, and therefore appreciation for the importance of drinking purified water.
Even though Shazeeb’s company will have to educate the market as it moves forward it sees hope in engaging young people for this purpose.
The business model relies on young entrepreneurs partnering with Shishir Water and taking the initiative to reaching out to their community and persuading people to drink safe water.
The local entrepreneurs invest approximately Tk5 lakh for setting up the plant. YY Goshti invests the rest - about Tk15 lakh. The entrepreneurs are then given a seven-year window to pay back the investment.
“Even though this is truly meant to serve the disadvantaged communities, we didn’t want it to be a charity. We wanted it to be a business that can be sustained,” Shazeeb said.
After Mymensingh, Shishir water is looking to find more local partners in other parts of the country to reach its goal of delivering safe drinking water to 50 thousand people.
“We hope to reach this within about the next two and half years. We will do this by setting up a total of ten plants across Bangladesh,” Shazeeb said