Testing our tubewells water quality

Sep 10, 2014

In 2014, UPPR commissioned the NGO Forum for Public Health to conduct a water quality testing study of 1,248 randomly selected tubewells installed by the communities in 21 towns with UPPR's financing.

The study found that 0.3 per cent of tested tubewells contained arsenic contamination if measured against the level set by the Government of Bangladesh (50 parts per billion (ppb)). If using the WHO recommended levels of arsenic for drinking water (10ppb) then 9.6 per cent of the sample is considered to be arsenic affected.

The study also found that overall bacteriological contamination rate was 44.5 per cent (n=545). The vast majority of contaminated cases were located in two of the 21 towns under study, Comilla and Rajshahi (n=376). Almost three quarters of the contaminated cases (n=400) involved low concentrations of faecal coliform yet would still require appropriate treatment before consumption. The findings of the results were shared with the sampled communities. Overall findings will also be shared with the UPPR towns and particularly Comilla and Rajshahi where awareness raising on the need to treat water before consumption is critical.

These findings are broadly consistent with existing studies in Bangladesh. The World Health Organisation states that while 80 per cent of the population in Bangladesh has an ‘improved water system’ this does not guarantee safe drinking water. The Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) of 2009 found that out of 14,442 samples, around 13 per cent are arsenic contaminated. MICS did not include the bacteriological contamination but a household water survey conducted in the DPHE/UNICEF Sanitation Hygiene Education and Water Supply project area encompassing 19 districts of Bangladesh shown that more than half of samples contain E. coli, an indicator of faecal contamination.

Constructing tubewells in densely populated urban areas has limitations and points to the importance of more sustainable solutions that connect the slum to the city, such as piped water supply. Yet piped water is not a panacea. A 2011 study showed that 57.8 per cent of samples from the Dhaka piped water supply tested positive for faecal contamination (Mahbub et al). Ensuring awareness of good practice amongst the community on how to treat water and translating that into behaviour remains critical. But safe and sustainable solutions require investment in the overall water supply and management infrastructure.

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