Solar-powered ATMs to deliver clean drinking water in Pakistan

Published: May 14, 2015


LAHORE: Punjab province is set to launch an innovation for water-short Pakistan: Solar-powered ATMs that dispense clean water when a smart card is scanned.

The two-foot-square prototype machine looks and functions like an ATM, but dispenses water instead of cash. Users are issued a card they can use to claim a daily share of water.

The project, a collaboration between the Punjab Saaf Pani (Clean Water) Company and the Innovations for Poverty Alleviation Lab (IPAL), a research centre in Lahore, aims to install a water ATM on each of a series of water filtration plants being established in rural and urban fringe areas of Punjab province.

The machine is designed to help the government cut water waste and ensure people have access to clean water, said Jawad Abbasi, a programme manager at IPAL.

“The innovative machines will help the government maintain a record of the exact quantity of clean drinking water being dispensed in a day in a specific locality, besides ensuring its quality,” he said.

The quality and quantity of water being dispensed will be tracked in real time online, through a central server, he said.

How it works

The devices play an audio message upon authentication of a scanned card, after which they dispense water for the user. Green and red buttons enable the user to start and stop the flow of water.

A flow control meter manages how much water is dispensed, and sensors measure the amount of water still available.

In its first phase, the project will cover three districts of Punjab including Bahawalpur, Rajanpur and Faisalabad, all areas with particularly serious water contamination issues, experts said.

Each beneficiary family will be entitled to collect a maximum of 30 liters of clean drinking water daily from the filtration plants with their unique identity card, Abbasi said.

“We are planning to install the machines at 20 filtration plants in the first phase that will benefit some 17,500 families,” he said.

He said that his organisation was seeking $23,500 in aid from the UK Department of International Development to put the prototype into production and install more of the dispensing machines at existing water filtration plants in Punjab.

Similar card-based water dispensing systems are already in use in neighbouring India.

Push to improve water access

According to Punjab Saaf Pani Company, only 13 percent people in rural areas have access to tap water, compared to 43 percent of people in urban areas of Punjab. The province, with 98 million people, is the country’s most populous.

The government of Punjab aims to provide clean drinking water to over 35 million people by the middle of 2017 and some 20 billion rupees (almost $200 million) is being allocated for the effort in the upcoming budget, said Muhammad Farasat Iqbal, chief executive officer of Punjab Saaf Pani Company.

“It’s one of the top priorities of the provincial government, to ensure provision of clean drinking water in each locality, as access to clean water is a fundamental human right,” he said.

Iqbal said the clean water would be provided free of cost but beneficiary communities would pool money each month to pay for maintenance of the ATMs and filtration plants.

According to Pakistan’s national drinking water policy, 35 percent of Pakistan’s population doesn’t have access to safe drinking water. The policy estimates that diseases related to water, sanitation and hygiene issues cost Pakistan’s economy about 112 billion rupees ($1.1 billion) each year in health costs and lost earnings.

Nazir Ahmed Wattoo, an environmental expert with the Punjab Anjuman Samaji Behbood (Organisation for Social Welfare) said few water conservation systems are in place in Pakistan, resulting in waste both in daily use and in agriculture.

By regulating and measuring the water used daily in a specific area, he said, the government can better manage the scarce resource.

The real test, he said, will be whether the water dispensing centres are maintained and effectively monitored.

He said the centres also need to be supported by a concerted national effort to build new water reservoirs. Pakistan’s water storage capacity is currently just 30 days, a quarter of what neighbouring India says is needed.

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Reader Comments (13)

  • ishrat salim
    May 14, 2015 - 3:15PM

    Very good idea. It seem only Punjab is an innovative Province.Recommend

  • pakistani
    May 14, 2015 - 3:51PM

    woow, that’s good.Recommend

  • Caresless Whispers
    May 14, 2015 - 3:52PM

    Very Good Idea, other need to follow the same.. Save Water Save Life Save FutureRecommend

  • Saad
    May 14, 2015 - 6:00PM

    Please call them vending machines. ATM and water dispenser are totally different things.Recommend

  • master
    May 14, 2015 - 6:39PM

    Look busy, do nothing. The government has given up on providing clean water to all its citizens and now uses gimmickry on solar/ATM/smart cards to fool usRecommend

  • Raj - USA
    May 14, 2015 - 8:41PM

    I like this. Great idea. Clean drinking water is provided and, by using smart cards, the wastage of water is also controlled. Recommend

  • waqas
    May 15, 2015 - 12:31AM

    what if i drink more ?? Am i allow to make an extra card ?Recommend

  • Ridwan
    May 15, 2015 - 3:53AM

    Why can’t PTI and PPP do this in Sindh and KPK? People hate shahbaz sharif, but at least he cares about his province. PPP and PTI only care to win votes, but offer no solutions other than protests .Recommend

  • Ridwan
    May 15, 2015 - 3:54AM


    You’re complaining about both a problem and its innovative solution. Tell us, hydrologist, what can you offer? What has any other province done? Why can’t PTI and PPP think outside of the box??Recommend

  • Shahid
    May 15, 2015 - 9:27AM

    Its innovative idea but I don”t think its sustainable.

    I also think that problem is Pak is access to safe drinking water rather than water wastage. I personally would have used the money to install filtration plants at areas where there is none rather than install machines on top of existing filtration plants. I would have used public education to cut back on water wastage as its more convenient than restrict its usage through a card. Cards would eventually change hands and made redundant or issued to whosoever wants it in whatever quantity. Recommend

  • khan PTI
    May 15, 2015 - 10:08AM

    PTI and PPP did not have time to do such un-sustainable things. See KP-Police Now. Most of filtration plants have shortage of null, plz install null Recommend

  • imran yaqoob
    May 19, 2015 - 2:00PM

    its the beginning of rights deliverance, the thing that matters is community participation and here it is through maintenance of ATM on monthly basis, via cash contribution. Hope so it will be a gud start and it will change the lives and livelihoods tooRecommend

  • syed & syed
    May 21, 2015 - 1:48AM

    It is brilliant idea but still on paper. Pakistan have seen many projects which never materialized I pray for its implementation. It may not be a project to fill pockets.Recommend

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