The world’s ‘thirstiest’ ATM

In another example of the humanitarian role played by ATMs, two hundred thousand residents of the Mathare slum outside Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, are now able to access safe water through a network of what they call “Water ATMs”. The idea is catching on in India, too. The one pictured here came onstream in the West Bengal town of Ahmedabad in June 2016 and supplies a litre of clean drinking water for one rupee (USD 0.01).

The machines – not really ATM’s in the strict definition of the term – have revolutionised clean water availability and distribution to populations that have long been at the mercy of unscrupulous water cartels who charge up to 100 times more for water which is frequently contaminated. The water ATMs are run and monitored by residents who own them and therefore take better care of them.

To buy clean water, users load points on to smart cards given out to residents for free. By a simple swipe of their card on the ATM’s sensor, water is released from the main storage tank into a waiting container.

Residents say the health benefits of the scheme are already being felt in terms of reductions in the incidence of diarrhoeal diseases, and life has become much easier on account of the Water ATMs. “I am saving on other costs,” said one woman, adding, “Because the water is already treated, I spend less on charcoal and kerosene to boil my drinking water, and I use the money saved to pay for my daughter’s school books.”