Social enterprise wins prize for river cleanup

Clean water from the Narmada River, which supports the water needs of around 75 million people in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Before Singapore social enterprise Ecosoftt installed a water reclamation system in 2014, the river was heavily poll
Clean water from the Narmada River, which supports the water needs of around 75 million people in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Before Singapore social enterprise Ecosoftt installed a water reclamation system in 2014, the river was heavily polluted with sewage pouring in from more than 200 drains.PHOTO: ECOSOFTT

1st S'pore group to receive global sustainability award from UAE for treating polluted water in India

A local water solutions provider - which has made a mark on dozens of villages in India, Indonesia and Hong Kong by bringing them clean drinking water and sanitation - has won an international award.

Ecosoftt is the first Singapore organisation to receive the Zayed Sustainability Prize, which is awarded by the United Arab Emirates in recognition of innovative and sustainable solutions in health, food, energy and water which benefit communities in developing countries.

Founded in 2012, the social enterprise embarked on one of its first overseas projects just two years later in Madhya Pradesh, a state in central India.

The Narmada River - which runs through the city of Omkareshwar and was heavily polluted with sewage pouring in from more than 200 drains - supports the water needs of around 75 million people in the state, from agriculture to drinking, said Mr Stanley Samuel, founder and chief executive of Ecosoftt.

He spoke to the media on Tuesday on the sidelines of an event to publicise the award.

During festive periods, two to three million Hindu devotees from across the country flock to the water to complete religious rituals.

To clean up the waterway, engineers at Ecosoftt's Madhya Pradesh branch installed water reclamation systems in the drain network to intercept the sewage and feed clear water to the river.

The project cost about $500,000 and was collectively funded by the local government, corporations and the local community.

Four years later in 2018, the river water reached potable quality and was safe to drink, said Mr Samuel.

"That was absolutely stunning, from brown water to crystal-clear water," he added.

Using technologies such as rainwater harvesting, drinking water treatment and solid waste management, the organisation has reached out to villages to help them meet their clean water needs.

Ecosoftt's global headquarters is in Singapore. It has one regional branch in Hong Kong and three more in India.

In January, the organisation received the award in the water category, winning US$600,000 (S$821,000) in funding.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli attended the award ceremony in Abu Dhabi that same month.

The annual award, which started in 2008, is open to small and medium-sized enterprises, non-profit organisations and high schools worldwide.

Ecosoftt plans to use the prize money to scale up its business around the world.

The organisation has also been working with national water agency PUB to ramp up the efficiency of water use here.

With PUB's support, Ecosoftt installed a treatment system at the ground floor of a JTC CleanTech Park building in 2015.

Over four years of test-bedding, the treated water has been found suitable for toilet flushing, landscaping and other non-potable uses in the building.

"If you use and reuse every drop of water within the building, you can take less water from PUB and discharge less waste water into PUB's network, thereby reducing the demand on the national infrastructure," said Ecosoftt's co-founder and managing director Marcus Lim.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2019, with the headline 'Social enterprise wins prize for river cleanup'. Print Edition | Subscribe