H2GO: British Invention, Malaysian Expansion
By Azzad Mahdzir
A man fills up an aquarium with water from River Cherwell and Thames. Later he adds on some pond water, some runoff from a sewage plant, a handful of leaves and some dirt, and to top it off, rabbit droppings. He mixes the water well, producing what looks like a murky slush. He scoops a small bottle into the aquarium water, gives it a few pumps and as he pops the teat, out comes clean, clear, drinkable water.
The man behind the innovation is Michael Pritchard, who demonstrated the cutting-edge nano-technology at the TEDGlobal 2009, to a standing ovation. This simple device went on to revolutionise water-delivery systems around the globe, especially in disaster-stricken areas.
Fast-forward years later, the system is here in Malaysia, under the label H2GO by social entrepreneur Dr Rajiv Bhanot. Prior to this enterprise, Dr Rajiv had spent a couple of years serving as general practitioner in a local hospital.
Dr. Rhajiv Bhanot explains the mechanics of H2GO and the potential impact it has with a proper plan to distribute and implement the system in water-poverty stricken areas across the country.
“Water poverty is a global crisis. There are 3.5 million deaths every year because of water-borne diseases,” he explained. “By using our filter cartridges, water is filtered through a microscopic membrane of 15 nanometres in dimension,” Dr Rajiv enthused. The smallest known virus is 20nm. With only gravity, the technology filters out viruses, bacteria, cysts and parasites from contaminated water sources, within seconds. Today, H2GO Global provides clean drinking water to remote and rural communities where the means of infrastructure are not feasible.
Kuala Krai, a confluence where two rivers meet to form the Sungai Kelantan, is one of the epicentres of the annual east coast floods. In relief efforts, transporting bottled water to the disaster area is the norm which can be an added problem as it is both added weight and trash. In comparison, the H2GO communal water tank is a much more efficient solution. To date, 17 villages in Kuala Krai and Gua Musang have been given 20 water tanks equipped with filter cartridges, that filter up to 2 million litres and must be replaced every 3 years. With a capacity of 2,000 litres per tank, roughly 12,000 to 13,000 persons now have access to clean drinkable water from all 20 tanks for approximately 3 full years.
Flood victims are not the only ones who benefit from this revolutionary technology. The Temuans of Kampung Orang Asli Kachau Luar, in Semenyih, live in sparse brick houses spread across a large area. It makes little economic sense to build water treatment plants for a village this small.
“We work with JAKOA (Jabatan Kemajuan Orang Asli or Department of Orang Asli Development) to identify the villages that really need help. We work with the head of the villages and of course, when the tank is set up, they are extremely grateful.” chimed Nasaruddin, a H2GO service engineer who has been with the company since its inception. He has reached most interiors of both Peninsula and East Malaysia to install and prime the system, which takes an hour on average to do so. Water is harvested from rainfall, rivers, and underground.
Inam filling up a kettle from one of the two taps of the H2GO communal tank. As the system filters out all sediments and impurities, even viruses, there is no need to boil the water to make it drinkable, only if you plan make a cup of tea.
The water tank in Kachau Luar is installed right next to the kampong’s point of gathering: Kedai Runcit Inam Binti Sepah. This provision store is run by Inam, a year shy from 50 who is married to Sia Koy Fatt, a repented ruffian in his 60s. He insisted that he and his wife are the accidental caretakers of the water tank and happily cleans the exterior when the need arises.
“Most of the villagers have a tap at home, with water coming from underground. There are farmers who come here (to water tank) with their lorries, to bring water home. This water is for everyone. Whoever needs clean water, they can come and take,” said Inam. With a simple turn of the tap, the kampong folks now have access to clean, drinkable water from the hill, no matter how murky it gets when it rains. In such rural areas, H2GO outperforms the existing network of water-on-tap set up by the villagers themselves.
This is just the start in H2GO Global’s dream to end water poverty. Having no access to clean water is unimaginable for the city folk, but for those in rural areas, this is a daily struggle. Money is spent less on gas to boil water. Less time is spent travelling to larger settlements to bring home water. Water-borne illnesses can prevent schoolchildren from a proper education, and their parents from a day’s work on the farm.
With a capacity of 1,000 litres, the communal tank brings benefits that can be shared by the entire community. In the past, villagers of Kampung Kachau Luar had to rely on water from the hills, which quickly became contaminated with soil and dirt when it rained.
The question is, how can a nation loosen its grip on dependency and create more water democracy when fresh water is available, all year round? H2GO has the potential to facilitate self-sufficiency for water as how effective we are in harvesting solar energy. For communities living off-the-grid both in rural and urban settings, in times of peace and distress, clean, safe water is a fundamental right for every single person.
The challenge is real, but not impossible to overcome, as the impact of H2GO has clearly demonstrated. Dr Rajiv emphasised, “…sometimes we don’t allow ourselves to believe that we can. The company’s end-goal to solve global water poverty may sound naive, but if we can convert plans after plans into action, what’s stopping us from getting it done?”