For the last two years an unconventional startup has been doing its bit to slake the country’s thirst for safe water.
In a world where available water resources are fast depleting, the proper utilisation of rainwater has become an issue of major importance. The availability of clean drinking water is becoming increasingly scarcer leaving people high and dry. And Nepal is no stranger when it comes to struggling with the insufficiency and undersupply of clean drinking water.
The problem has forced entrepreneurs to come up with ideas and initiatives for solutions with long-term sustainability. One Nepali startup has been focusing on utilising rainwater as pure drinking water. Best Paani, a water management company has been providing services such as rainwater harvesting, ground water recharge and water purification through organic filtration since its formation in 2015. The startup aims to address the water crisis in the urban areas and apply proper water management techniques in the remote areas through sustainable methods.
Gokul Dangal, the Co-founder and Chief Technical Officer of Best Paani who studied Water Management at the Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training (CTEVT), started working in the area of water management in 2007. Further modifying rainwater harvesting technologies to fit the Nepali context, Dangal co-founded Smart Paani as Senior Technician and worked there for three years prior to starting Best Paani. He then looked for someone with management and administration skills so that the company could effectively move ahead with its business plans.
He eventually met Sajal Pradhan, a student of Sustainable Development at Kathmandu University, and decided to partner with her. Before joining Best Paani, Pradhan was engaged in the readymade clothes business, importing materials from Thailand. “I wanted to open a clothing store at Kumaripati due to the high profit margin of the business. However, I had to drop the plan because I did not have enough capital,” says Pradhan. Then came Best Paani, which she joined as Co-founder and Managing Director.
While Dangal looks after the entire technical side of the company, Pradhan takes care of communications and management. The duo with their contrasting skill sets and networks are driving the business of water management forward.
Rainwater Harvesting is the process of collecting rain water, filtering it and storing it for future use. In this process, the rain water is centralised through a pipe down to the tanks. In rooftop harvesting, the catchment work is done on the roof to hold the water. First the rain water is cleaned through a flushing system and then filtered through rapid sand filtration technique before flowing into the tank. Such water can be used for purposes such as washing and cleaning. The remaining water is sent to the ground. Similarly, the water used for drinking is filtered once again using sand and bacteria. The sand controls the entry of heavy particles and other dirt whereas, the bacteria, which has been developed through a formula eats away the other harmful bacteria and microorganism found in the harvested water. "This method is highly sustainable and makes it easy for the people to get a smooth supply of water throughout the year," shares Dangal.
Ground Water Recharge, another service of Best Paani, allows the overflowing water to remain unused in the ground."Through this system, we will be able to send the rain water under the ground, which increases the ground water level," he says, adding, "If a whole neighbourhood area installs the Ground Water Recharge system, there will be no water problem in the locality."
Similarly, Best Paani also offers non-electric and non-chemical Water Filtration services of three types. One is basic filtration which extends the life of water to 15 months. Another is intermediate filtration which filters the micro pollutants and the next is advanced filtration which purifies water through bio-sand filter.
"We faced lot of disapproval in the beginning because rainwater has no minerals. But as it is a sustainable solution to the growing water problems, this method is highly beneficial for the ecosystem," he stresses. He views that this technique helps to augment the ground water level of the area. "As per the value of minerals in food, we consume a lot of minerals through vegetables, cereals and fruits. So, what matters here is to consume clean drinking water that can be provided by rainwater harvesting."
While the unfiltered rainwater expires after seven days, water purified through this technique remains pure and safe to drink for 15 months. "The cost of installing the system starts from Rs 60,000 and goes upto Rs 500,000 depending on the rainwater catchment area storage capacity and number of people living in a housing unit," informs Pradhan. However, if the tank is already available, the cost is significantly reduced. Also, the cost will be minimised if the house is under construction. "It is more expensive to install new pipes in pre-constructed houses to set up the system. But in the case of buildings that are under construction, we can connect our system to the house pipes, enabling customers to save costs averaging 30 percent," mentions Dangal.
Like other innovative entrepreneurs who come up with unconventional ideas, Dangal too faced a lot of criticism from people and water experts. “Back in 2007 when I shared my idea to purify water using this technique, I used to get mostly negative comments. Although there was a shortage of water, people would rather queue for hours and wake up late at night to fill the water than adopt our techniques,” recalls Dangal. Despite the difficulties, he kept on working on his idea which has now garnered him almost 1,500 clients. “We have been promoting Best Paani services entirely through word of mouth.”
Despite the challenges it faced immediately after starting due to the massive earthquake in 2015, the company was quite proactive in providing pure drinking water supply during the disaster. One major problem for such service-oriented businesses in the capital, Pradhan says, are the traffic jams hampering their work efficiency. “We actually want to operate in such a way that people working with us have to work only for five days a week," she says. “But there are so many public holidays in Nepal and even during the work hours, we aren’t able to work proficiently. This is a major problem for all entrepreneurs in Nepal at present."
The startup till now has worked with 350 clients. Altogether, it has worked in 17 districts including Sinchupalchowk, Sindhuli, Siraha, Janakpur, Dhading and Rasuwa. The company usually installs the system in residential houses, schools, community buildings, hostels, hospitals. “We have also worked with an INGO project for the Chepang community,” Dangal shares. He says that NGOs and INGOs cover the major cost of the installation of water harvesting and filtration system in rural areas.
Pradhan views that the developmental organisations have been playing a good role in providing counselling to the rural communities in terms of the benefits of rainwater harvesting. “Usually we find that people in Nepal generally do not trust the technology developed in Nepal during the beginning. So, in this case, if the foreign agencies come and do the counselling, there are examples where the people have been convinced,” says Pradhan.
They stress that with a onetime investment in Best Paani services, people will be able to save time and work more productively in other area. The co-founders see a huge market opportunity for water management startups in both urban and rural areas.
"We have set our business target in three phases, the short-term, mid-term and long-term. Presently, we are at our short-term phase. We are ahead of our target and we have been earning a profit," says Pradhan. Meanwhile, the company’s mid-term goal is to reach 50 districts of the country and also to expand its services to the international clientele, according to Dangal.