During my field trip to Uganda this past October, a first step was to understand how people collect and use water, and find out where contaminated water is a problem. Besides watching, asking questions and taking pictures, I did some water quality testing of my own. I found that many wells were contaminated, and that people were who relied upon these wells were consuming unsafe water. This is a known problem, and one of my inspirations to work on our household water solution. However, what really surprised me was when I tested drinking water drawn from clean sources: I was surprised to find that water in households would often be contaminated, even when the water was drawn from a clean borehole well nearby.
As I saw more of how people collected, transported, and distributed water, this became less surprising. People transport water in used jerrycans, and very few of the jerrycans I saw had lids—some even had other objects jammed in the opening to prevent water sloshing out. Asking more questions, I learned that cleaning jerrycans is a problem: one common method is to shake them with sand or pebbles inside. Unfortunately, this method creates scratches that then harbor more bacteria. Additionally, in this community soap is fairly hard to come by, making it nearly impossible to keep containers or hands clean.
The take-home lesson for me, as well as for the community members I showed water quality testing results, was that it’s safest to treat water just before drinking it to avoid many opportunities for contamination – even when the water source is uncontaminated.