The Application of Participatory Research to Optimize a Household Water Treatment Technology in a Poor and Marginalized Community of Chennai, India

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MacDonald, Morgan
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University of Guelph

This research provides an authoritative perspective on the importance of collaborative innovation for the development of sustainable household water treatment and safe storage (HWTS) in Mylai Balaji Nagar, a low-income, peri-urban community in Chennai, India. The use of HWTS to improve drinking water quality and reduce the burden of diarrhoeal diseases in poor and marginalized communities in the developing world has received considerable attention. However, the technologies proposed by foreign researchers and engineers are often designed without the involvement of local people, and often neglect the cultural heterogeneity of the low income communities they’re intended for. Participatory action research (PAR) encourages a two-way exchange of information that promotes collaborative learning and increases the likelihood of sustainable development. This research employed a PAR framework to promote community control and stimulate local participation in a user-centered approach to HWTS design. Complementary evidence is presented on the importance of appropriate technology that places greater emphasis on the social determinants of user satisfaction. A twelve month randomized controlled trial of the collaboratively designed HWTS revealed significant reductions of indicator bacteria in intervention household drinking water, with mean log reductions of 1.54 (95% CI: 1.35 - 1.73) for \emph{E.} coli and 1.92 (95% CI: 1.76 - 2.08) for total coliforms. Bacterial concentrations in treated water were higher during the monsoon season than the dry season, indicating that water quality may vary according to seasonality in tropical countries with monsoon rains. Additionally, survey data established that households with “high” perceptions of treated water taste, colour, and odour were more than three times more likely to comply with treatment instructions than were households with “very low” perceptions. These findings merit further study, as it appears that HWTS products that produce aesthetically appealing water receive greater compliance, and therefore present greater potential for achieving the desired health outcomes. The results of this research promote PAR as a powerful tool for developing contextually appropriate and culturally sensitive HWTS in poor and marginalized communities as a way to improve drinking water quality.

household water treatment, point-of-use, participatory, poverty alleviation, sustainability, diarrhea, India, collaborative innovation, slum