Impact of Water Vending Machines in slums
- A water vending machine is a self-service device such as an ATM machine, which is used to dispense purified water into a customer’s water bottle. It consists of various purifying technologies such as reverse osmosis, ultraviolet, ozone, deionization, and carbon filtration for dispensing purified water.
- A water vending machine is operated by insertion of money, tokens, or upon receipt of payment, to obtain purified water into a customer’s container. Water vending machines are an ideal solution in urban areas to get purified water.
- Major players across the globe are introducing water vending machines with smart design and unique materials that help users to get purified water and help water suppliers to deliver various products such as flavored water, carbonated water, or mineral water. This is likely to drive demand for water vending machines in the coming years.
Water ATMs were introduced in the Mathare slums with a mandate to achieve progress in safe affordable water coverage in unserved LIAs along with revenue generation (WSRB 2016). The major findings of this research show that in this ‘pro-poor intervention’ in urban water management sector the donors did not think carefully about how an water ATMs would work in the political context of this slum, and thus their installation though smart in its approach of providing “affordable water” has not been successful.
The water source for the water ATM tanks has not been properly planned and since the tanks had to be filled by the utility’s tanker trucks it cannot cope up with high demand leading to escalation of cost and sometimes even providing poor quality water leading to its failure to provide “safe water”. The location of the ATMs were also suboptimal because they were not sufficiently close to their customers and lugging water for long distances deterred its complete use even when it was the cheapest source.
Most importantly, they were vulnerable to sabotage from the cartels of vendors. It seemed these water ATMs have become another cheaper source for water to be sold second and third hand. From the narratives of the slum residents it seems that water ATMs in Mathare slums is another example of a donor with a “technological” solution without an understanding of the socio-political context within which the new technology would be introduced.
It seems that water ATMs have been encouraged by the government with the singular emphasis on economic viability without going deeper into the socio-economic set up of the slum. Cost recovery at sector level is indeed necessary
to move from a phase of stagnation and decay, but the systems would also need to modify the technological paradigm established in colonial times in order to serve the majority of citizens
When utilities are penurious, it is unlikely that new permanent water infrastructure would come up especially in areas legally not notified. So water ATMs if promoted on a large scale
in the LIAs with efficient planning suiting the socio- political milieu of the slum, it can be seen as
good news because conservative changes are easier to implement than radical innovations, let alone
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