Finding Safe Drinking Water in Rural Bangladesh - Are Deep Tubewells the Answer?

Authors: Varun Goel*, UNC Chapel Hill
Topics: Medical and Health Geography, Spatial Analysis & Modeling, Spatial Analysis & Modeling
Keywords: Disease ecology, water, health geography, medical geography, GIS, access theory
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Studio 6, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

To reduce diarrheal disease incidence in rural areas, Bangladeshis within the past 30 years have begun to source their drinking water from groundwater with elevated arsenic levels. In response, households have switched to nearby low arsenic shallow tubewells as a mitigation strategy. However, such tubewells are found to have poorer water quality and are associated with higher incidence of diarrheal diseases. The alternative mitigation approach—sourcing from deep tubewells—has demonstrated protection against arsenic exposure and offers improved water quality. However, the health effects of transitioning to these sometimes more distant and less accessible wells have not been adequately investigated. While deep tubewells may have less source microbial contamination, reduced well accessibility may result in a higher possibility of contamination through differential handling and storage techniques. Using a combination of household surveys, geospatial data, and environmental microbiological data, our study provides a comprehensive assessment of whether deep tubewells are safe drinking water sources compared to shallow tubewells. Additionally, we measure social, built, and natural environment factors to identify barriers to access while assessing under what conditions deep tubewells are most protective against microbial contamination and diarrheal disease. Baseline results suggest that although deep tubewells have better water quality at source, impediments to access such as longer distance and lack of ownership modify handling and storage, subsequently increasing  the possibility of microbial contamination. With increasing interest in installing more deep tubewells as an arsenic mitigation intervention, our results offer considerations for policymakers implementing arsenic mitigation strategies in rural Bangladesh and beyond.

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