The Clean Water ATM

A company is looking at providing clean water in the poorest areas


When ATMs were initially introduced they were considered an advanced piece of technology. Forty years on, most are frustratingly erratic and some charge you to take out your own money. According to a Bankrate survey, the average withdrawal fee for today’s ATMs is $4.45, up from $1.97 in 2008.

They’re not all bad though. ATMs remain a convenient way to withdraw money, and banks are looking to integrate new methods of payment - like Apple Pay - with them. New uses for them are being explored all the time, and Danish engineering firm, Grundfos, has come up with perhaps the most interesting one; an ATM which dispenses water.

In Nairobi, access to clean, drinkable water is no longer an issue. Paying for it, however, is unstructured and difficult to regulate. The money generated is important because it goes directly into the purification process, which if neglected, can cause the water to become contaminated. It’s been predicted that 135 million people will die from water-related diseases by 2020 this century, even if the United Nations reaches its ‘Millennium Goals’.

For the Nairobian communities which do not have access to water in their own homes, there’s a reliance on spigots. The operator who opens and closes the valve is paid a fee, with a percentage supposed to go back to a government agency which maintains the purification process. Unfortunately, there’s little motivation for that person to pass on the money, and a lack of regulation to punish them for failing to do so.

Grundfos’ ‘ATM’ would solve this issue and guarantee that enough money was being handed over to ensure the water’s cleanliness. Users would be issued a ‘water card’ which they could top-up by purchasing points from vendors or telephone operators. Like a standard ATM, the user is greeted with an array of options - including the amount of water they’d like to dispense - which they can select directly on the screen.

The project is still at the pilot stage, with four ATMs already implemented in some of the poorest communities in Nairobi. It’s also being tested in Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria. As the project is still in its infancy, there’s little data as to whether it is actually allowing money to flow more efficiently into the hands of the people who can improve the purification process, but in theory, it should do just that.

If successful, Grundfos’ ‘ATMs’ could help the United Nations reach its goals, and reduce the amount of people forced to rely on unsanitary water. The scope of the project would have to increase, but if it proves successful in the countries in which it’s already operational, there’s no reason why that couldn’t happen.


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