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Field Testing Kits : Ensuring Drinking Water is Safe

State and Development Partner

Multiple States,

Piramal Foundation

Problem

Presence of geogenic and biological contamination in groundwater sources generally goes unnoticed until it manifests in the form of illness. The vastness of the country makes it prohibitively expensive to provide real-time information on adherence to water quality, from sources such as handpumps, to prescribed norms. Hence, there's a strong tendency to believe that visibly clean water is in fact "safe" water. This information asymmetry, apart from its adverse health implication, is also a barrier to foster active participation and ownership of the community in demand-driven schemes such as Swajal. The Swajal scheme is a demand-driven, single village mini piped water supply scheme which depends on community engagement and ownership.

Conventional Solution

Pass media campaigns and interpersonal communication through frontline workers around safe drinking water and potential sources convey the importance of the issue, but do not provide a tangible mechanism for democratising the ability to conduct a preliminary assessment of local water profile. This barrier presents an opportunity for a simple but effective solution.

Behavioural Insights Based Solution

Field Testing Kits (FTKsJ were introduced as a tool for community engagement to nudge people into adopting safe water practices. FTKs provide an indicative presence of an elevated level of contaminants in a water sample and require no scientific training to conduct them. It not only demonstrates the extent of contamination using simple colour coding but also piques community interest as the team conducts a transect walk to test samples from various water sources in a village. Generally conducted in social settings, FTKs are effective in empowering the community to ascertain the quality of water they consume and hence, catalyses participation in brainstorming on community-owned water supply solutions. FTKs are made of chemical reagents and calibrated measuring test tubes and beakers that test 8-10 parameters (such as Iron, Fluoride, Nitrate, TDS, Turbidity, etc.) in the water samples. Once community members watch the water they thought was clean change its colour during the test, it generates discussion around the importance of safe drinking water. It works because it makes the problem visible and hence salient for the community members. Additionally, as the tests are conducted as a social event, they trigger people to see value in committing and investing participation in the Swajal Scheme. Certain communities go as far as colour coding contaminated water sources (such as handpumps) to signal non-consumption of water from the particular source for drinking or cooking purposes. Deployment of FTKs enables a sense of ownership in communities and this behavioural change is conducive to mobilising community contribution for the piped water supply scheme.

Impact

Through Piramal Foundation's partnership, 322 Gram Sabhas have passed resolutions endorsing the demand for Swajal Scheme. The use of FTKs resulted in mobilising community contribution worth 10% of the capital expenditure of the piped water supply scheme in around 80% villages.

Source : Stories of Change from India's Aspirational districts - NITI Aayog publication

Last Modified : 9/20/2022



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