Study of bacteria levels in drinking water from tube wells to storage tanks

Our members Stine and Astrid visited JGVK in June to work on a project regarding water quality in households in collaboration with the Technical University of Denmark (DTU) and UBU.

In rural communities in low-income countries, the population is at a high risk of contracting waterborne diseases due to a lack of microbially safe water supplies. There is a strong correlation between the presence of faecal coliform bacteria in drinking water and diarrhea as well as other waterborne diseases. Increased awareness of risk factors and good hygiene practices could prevent a large number of incidents.

In the community, water is typically collected at a source and transported to households. In the households, water used for drinking and household purposes is stored in small containers or jugs locally known as ‘kalsi’. These jugs might not be properly sealed, and are at risk of contamination from various sources. Cleaning and hand washing using soap is not a common practice in the area.

The study assessed the risk of faecal coliform (thermotolerant coliforms) bacteria contamination in household water storage tanks. Thermotolerant coliforms are used as indicator organisms since their presence in water indicates contamination by human or animal feces and subsequent pathogens.

The water was tested using DelAgua test kits, a testing kit designed especially for field use. JGVK has two kits in very good condition which were used during the study. Water samples were tested for 55 households in total together with their respective pumps, as the initial quality of the water is important to take into considerations. For the households two water samples were tested from the storage container and two from the point-of-use (drinking jug or glass). Sanitary surveys of households and tube wells were done in order to identify potential risks of contamination.

The results showed a low concentration of faecal coliform bacteria in the samples taken from the tube well pumps, which indicated a good water quality in terms of low faecal coliform bacteria levels. However, bacteria were found in the stored drinking water in households, and almost all households showed an increase in bacteria from the pump to storage and many also showed an increase of bacteria from the storage to the glass or drinking jug. This indicates that the bacterial contamination of the water occurs either during transport from the pump to the household or within the household, and there is a need for improvement and changes in hygiene practices.

The results from the study will increase the knowledge of the bacteriological quality of drinking water in the region, and identify potential risks of contamination. It will also raise awareness of the importance of good hygiene practices and help identify practices in need of improvement.  

During their stay at JGVK Astrid and Stine also hosted a workshop for fieldworkers on bacteriological contamination of drinking water and the importance of good hygiene practices. They also facilitated a two-day training session for the technical workers in the use of the sampling equipment and analysis of results. In the future, further training of fieldworkers and locals is expected to be done in order to facilitate improvement hygiene practices in the community.