Covid -19 Times: Water ATMs Best Practices

Ravindra Sewak, India Country Director, Safe Water Network

The Coronavirus is a 100-year phenomenon of pandemics that hit the world. During the last cycle of Spanish Flu – even Mahatma Gandhi contracted it and recovered but many others were not so fortunate and India lost between 10 – 20 million people, almost 40% of the 5 million deaths worldwide during the Spanish Flu. Despite advances in medical sciences, algorithms, risk modelling, etc., the world was not prepared for this ‘Black Swan’ moment! 

India could delay the COVID spread and flatten the curve due to bold and decisive leadership of our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi ji giving a clarion call for lockdown that was supported by the citizens, tireless work of our front line workers including the doctors, nurses, ASHA, ANM, sanitation workers, police and administration working in tandem to provide food distribution, water supply, electricity and shelter-in-place especially for the most vulnerable migrant labour and have-nots. The civil society, common man and volunteers pitched in with their contributions in cash or service wholeheartedly. Now as the country prepares to open economy partially with 45% of business opening on April 20th, we will enter the world with new social and business norms. 

Now we will have to take additional care to prevent ourselves, our colleagues and society from being infected by this highly infectious and all-pervasive COVID virus, which unfortunately is asymptomatic from one to fourteen days, while being infected. Taking a cue from the elaborate SOPs issued by the government of India, we adopt these good practices in our day to day lives:

Personal Protection Protocol:  When in office or a public place, wear a three-layer cotton cloth mask. Maintain good hygiene practices, like frequent hand wash with soap or hand sanitizer, ensure a social distance of 2m or six feet. Greet with namaste or salaam instead of a handshake. Avoid touching your face, nose, and mouth.  Businesses will be relying on telecommuting, teleworking, conducting remote meetings aided by digital technology. There would be reduced tours and travels. When the office opens, the staff should be encouraged to work from home to reduce crowding in the office. They can come to the office as needed or in a cyclic manner. Install the Aarogya Setu App of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on your smartphone to keep yourself and the government informed about your health and for ease contact tracing and getting timely alerts. It is your travel pass for the future. 

Entrepreneur and Operator Protection Protocol: While following the personal protection protocol, the operators and entrepreneurs or Self-Help Groups operating the facility need to keep their Water ATMs touch-points wiped down. Do not allow outsiders entry into the plant. Ensure 24×7 availability using contactless smart cards. Ensure residual chlorine in the treated water, even though there is little evidence to date on the presence of COVID in water being able to communicate the disease. Fumigate the Water ATM daily. Learn how to fumigate the workplace and buy the necessary equipment and appropriate chemicals Travel only if necessary, that too individually on a two-wheeler while avoiding public transport as far as possible. Follow the personal protection protocol. Promote regular and thorough hand-washing by consumers and create a hand wash station. Keep communicating and promoting the message of hand wash, stay at home and social distancing.

Office and Workplace Protection Protocol: Clean your own work stations as well as personal items such as keys, mobile or laptop with disinfectant regularly. It is impossible to retrofit all the existing air conditioners with a HEPA filter hence include filters as a mandatory accessory, lest one person becomes a source of infection to all. Get the office fumigated daily. Promote regular and thorough hand-washing by employees, contractors, and customers. Put sanitizing hand rub dispensers in prominent places around the workplace. Make sure these dispensers are regularly refilled. Put sanitizing hand rub dispensers in prominent places around the workplace. Make sure these dispensers are regularly refilled

Remote Visibility: Each water treatment plant or Water ATM has to be equipped with a remote monitoring system ensuring effective local operation with a central awareness. This minimizes the need to visit a place to extend timely technical service for ensuring reliable operations. Install video surveillance, if necessary, to provide teleservice and avoid travel. Transact water sales and business digitally using UPI for higher transparency while reducing fomites or the need to touch each other. The use of smart money and touchless RFID 24×7 dispensing is likely to be omnipresent in the near future, not only in water but all other services. Digital training will be a necessity rather than a nice to have tool. 

As an example, we share the business visibility due to remote monitoring volume data of walk-in customers between March 1 to April 18 at Safe Water Network’s water ATMs. It shows a clear trend of water dispensing at the Water ATMs before and after the lockdown period. The daily average volumes increased in sync with the higher seasonal impact. It also shows the resilience of dispensing almost double the volume on Mar 21 when the consumers wanted to fetch their water in advance of the first day of the experimental lockdown on Mar 22. 

Water dispensed from Safe Water Network's Water ATMs during March 1 to April 18, 2020
Water dispensed from Safe Water Network’s Water ATMs during March 1 to April 18, 2020

We need to be ready to enter into a new world by following these best practices in order to serve our communities with safe drinking water during these difficult times as we plan for business continuity.