ZeroMiles is a group initiative undertaken, based on 15 years of cumulative experience in the field of rural development within India. The project was initiated with the intention and aim to bring economical self-sustenance to villages across India, by advocating spiritual and scientific methods. Since India’s independence in 1947, cities within the country have grown into bustling economic centres of progress and development. However, this has lead to unequal development within the country resulting in a contrasting divide between the rich and poor. Water quality continues to exist despite India’s technological and economical advances.
The rural regions within India are not economically beneficial; apart from the obvious agricultural benefit. Safe drinking water remains a distant dream for almost all villagers. Unhealthy drinking water increases the spread of these diseases to a great deal. These diseases attracts high medical expenses which starts a vicious cycle of poverty in the low income groups in rural India. Apart from the presence of pathogens and germs in the water, chemical contaminants like arsenic and lead is detrimental to health. For example, arsenic in the water can lead to skin problems, abdominal pain and gastrointestinal problem for children. On the other hand, the presence of lead in the water source can result in nervous and circulatory problems.
After understanding the vicious cycle of poverty within rural India caused because of dirty drinking water, it is clear that there is a need for alternative solutions to tackle the problem. Looking at the scattered villages and economic viability of laying down pipelines for centralised solutions, a major initiative like ZeroMiles needs to be launched in various villages to provide decentralised and community lead solutions. Clean and plentiful water sources will allow these villages to flourish, reducing health expenses while in turn increasing happiness.
This concept of developing the rural areas within India lies at the core of this initiative. The project believes that the good physical and mental health brought by pure drinking water will boost acceptance and creativity of the villagers. The good health and the money saved on medical expenses will help the villagers to undertake initiatives that will improve their economy further. To boost this, ZeroMiles uses interactive audio-visual ICT setup to broadcast ideas to the villagers. This is what separates ZeroMiles from other rural development projects in India. Smart Boards or ICT has become a popular choice of presenting ideas in schools, colleges and business serves the basis on which ZeroMiles conduct their awareness programmes. This development model based self-development has one prime advantage, since, these ideas come directly while interacting with the villagers themselves, they are more likely to be accepted within the village, because these ideas come from cumulative experience gathered from living a village life, while keeping in mind local culture, traditions, customs, and beliefs.
According to ZeroMiles, the development project consists of a six-step approach to arrive at a solution:
1) Targeting taluka: ZeroMiles states that talukas are small groups of interdependent villages. The first step this project takes is to target specific talukas based on the severity of that specific taluka’s needs.
2) Identify villagers: After a taluka has been selected, categorisation of individual villages proceeds. This categorisation by population allows ZeroMiles to target villages with less than 5000 people. The belief being villages with smaller populations are more likely to face problems and issues relating to water and health. This belief is further strengthened by the fact that more than half of the country’s population lives in villages with a population below5000 people.
3) Field visits: ZeroMiles then sends out their campaigners, in order to introduce the initiative to community members. Field visits are extremely important by which ideas need to be clearly transferred to and from both parties. In order to facilitate community acceptance and approval, the project implements technologies like ICT to ensure proactive engagement.
4) Case study: Once the community accepts the initiative, a comprehensive case study is conducted on the village. The case study will allow the project to highlight existing issues and discover potential problems.
5) Executing the Project: After gathering sufficient funds, the project is executed. In order to popularise the project and facilitate its effectiveness, a rural entrepreneur is chosen within the community. Adequate training and tools are provided to the chosen entrepreneurs, allowing them to become an instrument for popularising the project amongst nearby villages. For example,the entrepreneurs are trained with the necessary skills allowing them to carry out maintenance and regular checks on water treatment plants.
6) Establish trust: After the project meets all expectation and goals, ZeroMiles shares videos and photographs as evidence to investors. Along with photographic and video evidence, testimonials and GPS locations are shared to build trust with the investors.
The impact of ZeroMiles’ initiative can be manifold:
Centralising the decentralised: The decentralised ZeroMiles centres are connected together with the ICT setup, which in turn is connected centrally. Through the ICT setup, various region specific ideas are imparted to the people by a team of rural experts.
Water treatment: The project introduced the importance of treating water prior to consumption, by setting up water purifiers and treatment plants. Water treatment reduced the spread of diseases to great deal.
Disease control: Diseases like food poisoning, diarrhoea and trachoma plagued the chosen villages prior to this project; however, the spread of education and ideas has helped control the spread of these diseases.
Saving water: More water in villages is being saved, thanks to the efforts made by the ZeroMiles team of thinkers, technologists and innovators.
Empowerment: By far the biggest impact is psychological. This project has brought a sense of empowerment to the villages resulting in lower health expenses while increasing happiness.
The future is bright for ZeroMiles, as the initiative has taken off well in India. The project has seen immediate success in the field of rural development; however, it requires the continued support of its investors along with the belief of its village communities, if it has to continue being a successful project. This project holds future scope for villages which are facing acute problem of drinking water quality like part of Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal.