Hackathons are organized worldwide always for a cause or purpose, from trying to improve city transit systems, to helping companies come up with innovative apps, or collaborating to improve the lives of people living with dementia. The water sector is no different and has used these events to solve on-the-ground challenges for urban water use and in agriculture apps.
Today we speak with Mr. Anupam Jalote, CEO of iCreate, one of India’s leading technology incubators, who has collaborated with EarthX, a US-based international non-profit environmental organization, to host EarthxHack, a water-tech innovative solutions focused hackathon in India, a country facing a historic water crisis.
This hackathon focused on building prototypes that could help solve the problem of water generation, purification and conservation in Indian conditions and solutions.
Question: Firstly, could you tell us a bit about India’s water and sanitation crisis?
Answer: India is fortunate to have a relatively wet climate, even in the most arid regions and fresh water resources that puts India in top 10 countries with the most renewable fresh water resources as well as the largest water area.
However, a report by India’s Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) shares some alarming statistics about India’s water situation. The report mentions that the Government of India has estimated the water demand increase from 710 BCM in 2010, to almost 1180 Billion Cubic Meters (BCM) in 2050. If this demand is not met, this could account for a 6% loss in India's gross domestic product (GDP). Another report mentions that 21 cities are likely to run out of groundwater by 2020 and about 80% of India's drinking water needs are met by polluted groundwater.
The 2018 UNESCO World Water Development report, meanwhile, predicted an intensified water crisis across the country by 2050, with many parts of central India likely to face a withdrawal of 40 percent of the renewable surface water resources.
India’s water problem is being caused by several factors such as: reduced or uneven rainfall during the monsoon season, rapid increase in population, infiltration of water bodies, unsustainable handling of industrial wastewater, change in food consumption pattern, exploitation of natural resources, traditional approach in water conservation etc.
Policymakers face a difficult situation because there is not enough data available on how households and industries use and manage water.
Although Indian states such as Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh are working tediously towards managing their water, there is a sense of urgency to address the challenges that India faces with regards to water - its puriﬁcation, conservation, the oceans, the rivers and lakes.
The Government of India has estimated the water demand increase from 710 BCM in 2010, to almost 1180 Billion Cubic Meters (BCM) in 2050
Q: What do you think organizations, innovators and environmentalists should to try and solve this water crisis?
A: To begin with, it is important to identify what are the factors that cause the challenges around water, and then accordingly build awareness around these factors. As a first step, just by spreading awareness around the judicious usage of water, we are making citizens more responsible while consuming water.
At the country level, we could look to optimize existing infrastructure, such as water production and treatment plants, water networks and reservoirs.
Organisations, specifically manufacturing industries, can look to deploy newer technology and innovations that focus on water conservation.
Companies must consider loosening their purse strings to explore more R&D in areas such as water conservation, generation and leakages. Not all R&D may result in compelling results but by and by, we will be able to build concrete solutions to address these challenges.
Hackathon organized by iCreate and Earthx
Young Indian start-ups are already building innovative solutions that although may seem like small steps, they are steps in the positive directions. Though these fledglings are attempting to build corrective solutions, they need industry support, guidance, mentorship, finances in order to actually show proof of concept.
At a community level, we must consider community-based partnerships and hold indigenous groups meeting at the alternative climate change conferences. These dialogues have the potential to foster partnerships wherein solutions could be identified together.
Lastly, we must leverage emerging technology such as AI, Blockchain, ML, IoT and robotics wherein we are able to build newer and more advanced solutions that help in aspects such as water generations, waste water management, water desalination, rain water harvesting etc.
Young Indian start-ups are already building innovative solutions that although may seem like small steps, they are steps in the positive directions
Q: Are there any organizations or companies in India you would like to highlight for their innovative ideas to address the country’s water challenges?
A: One organisation that is doing some incredible work to address India’s water challenge is Piramal Sarvajal and we at iCreate are honoured to have collaborated with them.
Piramal Sarvajal is a mission-driven social enterprise which believes that pure drinking water should be accessible and affordable for everyone. Towards this end, it has designed and deployed innovative solutions for creating affordable access to safe drinking water in underserved areas.
Piramal Sarvajal is at the forefront of developing technologies and business practices in the safe drinking water sector that are designed to make a purely market-based model sustainable in both rural and urban deployment conditions. They are present in 19 states across India and serves 5,20,00 beneficiaries daily through.
Identifying synergies with their team, iCreate has signed an MoU with Piramal Sarvajal to enter into a thematic partnership to provide community level drinking water solution.
Q: What water-tech innovations have you found most impressive to address the water challenges in India?
A: In 2017, India and Israel had collaborated for the Indo-Israel Innovation Bridge, a bilateral innovation challenge calling on Israeli and Indian Startups to combine forces to develop solutions for critical challenges in agriculture, water and digital health. Some noteworthy Indian solutions were recognised here. Some of them are:
Pure Paani is an NGO who delivers portable, hand-operated filtration devices that can be used repeatedly by a traveling service provider or a ‘microentrepreneur’. By providing single-serving filtration, they will cater to low-income families that do not have access to clean drinking water.
Oceo Water who provide drinking water solutions at 1Rs per litre in monitored household filtration machines and Karthikumar who is developing a paper which can detect the amount of contamination in drinking water.
Towards wastewater solutions, Innotech Technologies Ltd has developed a unique treatment process for waste water using bio-electrochemical systems and recovery of value-added products.
Q: iCreate and EarthX have partnered to host a 2-day environmental hackathon. Why and how will it benefit Indian innovators on a global scale?
A: iCreate had recently held a water-focussed hackathon in collaboration with Earthx – a US-based international environmental non-profit organization to combat global water crisis using innovations using IoT, robotics, renewables, Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning, etc.
The 32-hour hackathon was held concurrently in Dallas, USA and in Ahmedabad, India, on April 27, 2019, until April 28, 2019, at the iCreate campus in Dev Dholera in Ahmedabad.
The hackathon saw teams from diverse backgrounds and age groups, such as college students, entrepreneurs, professionals, startups and projects working on environmental innovation and technology.
The EarthxHack had cross-functional teams who spent two exhilarating days at iCreate’s campus for creating a well-researched, technically feasible solution/prototypes viable in the Indian scenario to help solve the problem of water generation, purification and conservation.
The end result and the main objective of this hackathon was to enable conversations among innovators and start-ups who are likeminded and focussed on finding solutions to pressing problems. Conversations, brainstorming and seeking solutions at a global level allows the free flow of ideas, collaborations and instil confidence amongst innovators that they can help addressing pressing global problems.
Q: Finally, this hackathon aims to enable more water-tech solutions. How will you achieve this?
A: The EarthxHack 2019 focused on creating solutions to address the global water crisis. iCreate posed 2 broad problem statements to conceptualize solutions and prototypes around: 1) production of water from the atmosphere (saline water and wastewater) and 2) detection and prevention of loss of water through the transmission.
Some of the innovations that emerged from the EarthxHack included aluminium-based water condensation system, use of solar heat for water generation from humid air, developing drones and internet of things (IoT)-based system to detect breach and leakage in canals, use of Vapour Compression Refrigeration (VCR) system to get water from the atmosphere and detection of water loss in water bodies by infra-red (IR) satellite imaging.
The winning team built a solution using infrared satellite imaging to detect water leakage during transmission. The first runner-up innovation was the real-time detection of water loss in transmission channels using a sensory device to test soil moisture for joints at multiple transmission nodes and a solar flow meter detecting water loss between 2 points. The second was condensation of air moisture in humid areas through geothermal energy.
What is very impressive is that these solutions were identified by participants from diverse backgrounds and age groups, such as college students, entrepreneurs, professionals, start-ups and projects working on environmental innovation and technology in only a span of 32 hours!
One may argue that the solutions built need a lot of further ideation, polishing and incubation but these solutions are proof that there are minds that are young, creative and seeking. If we are just able to channelize them in the right direction, we may be address large problems with great magnitude.
It would therefore be the responsibility of global innovators, accelerators, start-up evangelists, governments and investors to unite and allow cross pollination of ideas and solutions. When we are able to collaborate at a global scale, we will be able to see several tangible solutions that address several dire challenges. To enable this, iCreate welcomes all start-ups, leaders, centres of excellence or anyone keen to find solutions that can positively impact climate change and sustainable development.