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Sustainable Technologies in Calcutta

By Ben Fleming (Class of 2014).

Calcutta, India’s third largest metropolitan area, faces many challenges typical of a densely populated city in a developing country with the added issue of immense poverty, even by Indian standards. As a result of a mass rural to urban migration, infrastructure in India’s cities has simply not been able to cope with the massive strain put on it, resulting in haphazard development and a lack of basic amenities which are freely available in more economically developed countries. Limited access to electricity, clean water and garbage disposal are just a few of the issues that Calcutta faces. Calcutta’s slum communities manage these issues through the burning of basically any fuel available, burning piles of rubbish on the street are the norm and within houses families burn Kerosene lamps and wood from construction sites as a source of heat and light.

The mass burning of garbage, industrial emissions and burning of poor quality materials cause massive air pollution, which is further exacerbated by the stable atmospheric conditions meaning that pollution in the atmosphere hangs around. As a result of the incredibly poor atmospheric conditions, every year, 18 in every 1000 people will get lung cancer and 7 in 10 will get some form of respiratory issue (Centre for Science and Environment, 2011). Respiratory issues are the second leading cause of premature death in children and women, making environmental advances paramount for development within Calcutta.  The average income for Calcutta’s urban poor is 27 Rupees a day (India Times), approximately 50 New Zealand cents.

In order to promote economic, social and environmental development Pollinate Energy (a sub section of the Australian charity Pollinate) operates a social business distributing high quality sustainable technologies into these communities to address some of the issues experienced. The social business model under which Pollinate energy operates aims to run the organisation without a dependence on donations for funding but while maintaining a social operative. High quality, durable technologies are provided however these come with a premium price tag, which is typically outside of the average savings of families in these communities, so a payment plan is provided where the products are paid off over 5-8 weeks (receiving the product at the start of the period). Having to pay for the product increases its perceived value and usage, rather than something provided for free which requires no personal investment. Products are distributed by “Pollinators” who are locals who receive professional development by Pollinate and operate their own microbusinesses distributing these products.

During the month of December I am undertaking a fellowship with Pollinate Energy in Calcutta to aid in establishment of their operations within the city, Pollinate is already fully established in Hyderabad and Bangalore and is also looking to establish operations in Lucknow. I will be working with a team of international fellows from around the world and also local Indian fellows to investigate potential avenues for development within Calcutta’s slum communities. As part of this programme I will gain experience in environmental management, and development opportunities from which I hope to take into my professional career after I have completed my studies at university.

Pollinate Energy needs to raise funds in order to establish their operations in Calcutta and donations towards Pollinates operations can be done through my give a little page:

Thank you for your time.