Cambridge, Mass. (April 28, 2010) – Eighty percent of health problems and five million deaths per year in developing countries are linked to inadequate water and sanitation according to the World Water Development Report 2009. This, coupled with the lack of medical attention for rural villagers, highlights a dire need for reliable access to clean water and healthcare, problems that Dr. BP Agrawal aims to solve.
The Lemelson-MIT Program today announced Agrawal as recipient of the 2010 $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Sustainability in recognition of his accomplishments. Agrawal’s creation of a community-driven rainwater harvesting system and mobile health clinics have the potential to improve the global public health system and better the quality of life for villagers in rural India. These novel inventions were developed under Agrawal’s Sustainable Innovations, a non-profit focused on building self-sustaining social enterprises.
Agrawal was selected as the winner of the prestigious prize by a distinguished panel of scientists, technologists, engineers and entrepreneurs. He will accept the award and present his innovations to the public at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during the Lemelson-MIT Program’s fourth-annual EurekaFest, a multi-day celebration of the inventive spirit, June 16 – 19.
Aakash Ganga: Access to Clean Water in Rural Areas
Funded with Agrawal’s first World Bank Development Marketplace Award, Aakash Ganga (AG), or River from Sky, is a rainwater harvesting system currently installed in six drought-prone villages in Rajasthan, the driest state in India. The AG system rents rooftops from homeowners and channels the rooftop rainwater through gutters and pipes to a network of underground storage reservoirs. This network of reservoirs is designed to provide 10 – 12 liters of water daily to every person in an entire village for a year; to-date, it has helped 10,000 villagers gain access to clean water. Agrawal is now working with the local, state and national governments for widespread adoption of AG.
AG’s holistic functionality is as vital to achieving large-scale success as is its transformative technology. Agrawal created a simple, self-sustaining execution plan – villagers rent their rooftops to others, enabling them to sell water and collect what they view as “free money.” 70 percent of harvested water is sold or used for individual families; the rest goes to horticulture. This dramatically improves sanitation, creates revenue to compensate each entrepreneur and covers operating costs. Additionally, the access to drinking water frees time for girls to attend school and women to be more economically productive.
Agrawal realized the importance of cultural acceptance early on, incorporating Jalwa Puja, an Indian tradition for mothers to worship at water wells, into AG’s execution. Mothers are invited to worship at the shared reservoirs; in turn, they become goodwill ambassadors and shield the tanks from potential sanitation issues. AG further economizes familial bonds to ensure low-cost maintenance by engraving local mason’s names onto the reservoirs. The recognition obligates villagers to take care of the reservoirs.
“AG demonstrates an alternative model that provisions water in lieu of the typical inefficient, poorly performing public works projects,” says Kirsten Spainhower, Portfolio Coordinator of the Development Marketplace, World Bank. “Agrawal’s system functions as a hybrid of a social enterprise and a public-private-community partnership, and takes great care to be attentive to social issues surrounding caste, class and gender.”
Agrawal’s rainwater harvesting system has indeed been a tremendous success, almost doubling the number of houses included in the original plan. Building on this initial accomplishment, the Indian government’s Ministry of Rural Development has expressed interest in implementing AG in 40 villages, for 100,000 people, and The Department of Science and Technology is evaluating Sustainable Innovations’ proposal to execute AG in 40 Rajasthan villages.
Arogya Ghar: Bringing Healthcare to the Poor
In an effort to make medical knowledge and healthcare accessible to rural populations, Agrawal also developed Arogya Ghar (Arogya), Clinics for Mass Care, with entrepreneur Atual Jain, for which he won a second World Bank Development Marketplace Award. Arogya, a system of mobile, kiosk-based clinics, is poised to alleviate the shortage of trained medical staff and improve standardized treatment protocols for common ailments and preventable diseases in India.
Arogya is owned and operated by high-school educated young women who deliver care door-to-door, after receiving training in healthcare and for-profit ventures from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani, Rajasthan. The kiosks allow them to enter basic patient tracking information, such as symptoms and vaccination history, which physicians review to take necessary remedial measures. Villagers treated through Arogya are given unique health identifier numbers so that doctors can maintain longitudinal health records and track progress. Treatment is inexpensive, costing approximately 25 cents per visit. Agrawal’s team is currently seeking collaboration with the USAID, the World Health Organization, UNICEF and social investors to scale up the kiosks to 50 villages by 2012, delivering care to 100,000 people.
“Agrawal’s accomplishments take us one step closer to solving the global water crisis, and enable thousands of rural villagers to combat infection and disease in a self-sufficient, sustainable way,” states Joshua Schuler, executive director of the Lemelson-MIT Program. “His ability to think outside-the-box and his inventive spirit help merge technology and tradition in order to enhance the quality of life for vulnerable, desperate populations; he is an inspiring role model for young entrepreneurs working in international development.”