I love to hear the amazing stories of communities and individuals coming together to meet their needs with their resources. I also love to meet organizations that help make that happen. The following two organizations, Isla Urbana and Paul Polak’s Spring Health, exemplify widely deployed, small-scale rainwater harvesting for a better future.
Isla Urbana designs and builds their systems in Mexico City and is one of the many amazing organizations working on rainwater harvesting systems around the world. They work with many partners to teach, train, build, and install rainwater harvesting in Mexico City and communities throughout Mexico. As of this writing, Isla Urbana has installed more than 5,000 systems that have together captured over 360 million liters of rainwater. They have installed 400 of these systems in rural communities and the remaining 4,600 systems in the city. (Figure 5-14 and Figure 5-15)
Through an iterative design process, Isla Urbana has designed a simple and sophisticated system that accounts for usage patterns, leaf litter and debris, and first-flush through a device they call the Tlaloque. Their systems also include a “calm inlet” (Figure 5-16 point 3), which slows down water entering the storage tank to avoid disturbing any sediment that may have collected at the bottom of the storage tank. Finally, Isla Urbana’s systems include automatic chlorination and filtration (Figure 5-16 Point 4 and 6) to keep water safe and low maintenance.
Another aspect of Isla Urbana’s approach that is worth learning from is that they focus on neighborhoods. By installing systems close to each other, and filling a neighborhood with rainwater harvesting systems, Isla Urbana builds a critical mass of connected people who know how to operate the systems. These neighborhoods of catchment become a resource to each other, which helps keep systems operating optimally, and they become seed neighborhoods that spread the word to other neighborhoods.
Spring Health sells clean water in India, specifically in areas of poverty. In their mission to “improve the health of millions of poor customers through safe drinking water by lessening sickness, eliminating the costs of expensive medicines and doctor visits, and improving livelihoods,” Spring Health takes a unique, market-driven, entrepreneurial approach to rainwater harvesting. Whereas Isla Urbana installs rainwater harvesting systems on homes and organizations, Spring Health employs a base-of-the-pyramid entrepreneurship model to install rainwater harvesting businesses that then deliver and sell the cleaned rainwater at a better-than-market price in communities that make less than two dollars per day. These deliveries are often made using bicycles (Figure 5-17). One of the many surprising results of Spring Health’s iterative design process was that financially poor people would pay up to 1/3 more to have their water delivered instead of picking it up. That said, even with the additional delivery cost, Spring Health provides ten liters of clean drinking water, enough for a family of five, for less than $0.10 USD per day.
As of this writing, Spring Health sells drinking water to over 150,000 people in 260 villages every day. Their goal is to reach 100 million customers in India every day, before expanding to other countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Kenya.
One of the co-founders of Spring Health is the inspirational Paul Polak. Paul is the author of Out of Poverty and The Business Solution to Poverty. He has met with over 3,000 financially extremely poor families over the last 30 years and has built businesses to serve the base-of-the-pyramid. Paul’s work is illuminated well in one of his statements:
“90% of the world’s designers spend all their time addressing the problems of the richest 10% - before I die, I want to turn that silly ratio on its head.”