18.07.2014 - 11:42:04

Master's Thesis

Title: Improving microbial quality of drinking water among households in rural Nepal: A Baseline Field Assessment

Primary Advisor: TBD
Eawag Co-Advisors: Regula Meierhofer (, Sara Marks (

Background: In rural Nepal, Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation has been implementing a community water resources management project since 2001 using a participatory approach to increase rural households’ access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene. However, recent studies revealed that 43% of existing schemes do not meet quality, quantity or continuity standards (DWSS, 2011), and 93% of water samples collected are faecally contaminated (Enpho, 2010). In addition, recent research has shown that even among piped systems delivering safe water, the water consumed in rural homes is often of poor quality. Thus, a component focusing on promoting household water treatment and safe storage (HWTS) was added to the project.

To support strategic planning and effective implementation of project activities and to disseminate best practices for promoting HWTS in Nepal, Eawag/ Sandec has outlined a 3-year research study in collaboration with Helvetas. The research activities will include three distinct components: A) Baseline study: measure water quality at various points along the piped network, during handling practices, and within storage containers in homes. Also assess attitudes and water handling practices among water users and current market conditions for HWTS products. B) Intervention development: on the basis of insights gained, develop a comprehensive strategy for the promotion of effective HWTS. C) Implementation and monitoring: following delivery of a HWTS intervention (products and behavior change campaign), observe longitudinal changes in attitude, practice, and the quality of water consumed in the home.

The student will be directly responsible for the baseline water quality assessment and will supervise interviewers conducting household interviews. The ideal student will have experience with water sampling; aseptic technique and microbial enumeration methods; survey instrument design; data entry and statistical analyses; and working in remote community settings. Knowledge of excel, IGOR, and/or SPSS is a plus.
Research Objectives: The main goal of this research is to improve the quality of water consumed by households accessing piped water supplies in rural Nepal by devising and implementing a strategy for sustainable HWTS. Following a brief literature review to be performed at Sandec, the student will design and execute a water sampling strategy for one or more piped water systems in rural Nepal. Samples will be collected and analyzed for fecal indicator bacteria using field enumeration methods (e.g., compact dry plates). In additional, the student will supervise a team of interviewers conducting in-person interviews and structured observations to investigate attitudes and water storage/handling practices, as well as investigate current market and distribution options for HWTS products. Upon return to Sandec the student will synthesize quantitative and qualitative data to understand how and when re-contamination of drinking water occurs, identify key factors that should be addressed during a behavior change campaign, and devise potential strategies for product marketing promoting treatment and safe storage in the home.
Methods: The student will spend about 1 month at Sandec to conduct the literature review and become familiar with the relevant data collection techniques, including sample collection and processing. In Nepal, the student will work closely with Helvetas to select communities, enroll households, and collect survey and water quality data. In the final months of the project, the student will return to Sandec to synthesize the research (literature review and empirical data analysis) into a final report. The total duration of the project is expected to be about 6 months beginning in September 2014.

Output: The output of this research will be a MSc thesis which provides a baseline assessment of water quality from “source to sip” for piped networks in rural Nepal and suggests key factors that should be addressed in an intervention to improve water quality in the home. This study will provide the basis for strategic intervention planning. The final product will likely be a peer-reviewed journal article.