Field Notes: What's in a water test?

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With many parts of the developing world in dire need of clean water sources, it’s important to have a thorough method of assessing water projects, ensuring that local populations receive quality water. NDIGD Monitoring and Evaluation Specialists travel to developing countries to evaluate the impact of water projects, gathering high-quality data in order to understand and/or quantify the effect of the water project on local community members.

How does the quality of water impact the local populations? How do NDIGD specialists acquire the data needed to inform project implementers of this impact? When evaluating the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC)'s water project, our Monitoring and Evaluation Specialists traveled throughout five regions of Ghana to facilitate interviews of members of the local population, and the testing of their water sources. While water tests are necessary to determine the cleanliness of the water, interviews with the local population are an important way to determine the community's awareness of the new, improved water sources, and how those sources have impacted their day-to-day life. An enumerator, a local individual hired by NDIGD who is responsible for surveying the local population with the use of mobile technology, conducts the interviews in the relevant language. In Ghana, over 70 languages are used, and NDIGD’s survey was translated into the four languages needed to connect with the targeted populations.

NDIGD worked with teams of interviewers and water testers who came from the communities where the research was being conducted.  Dennis, a local Ghanaian provided water quality testing for the MCC project. Dennis, pictured in the white polo shirt, performed many tasks to obtain a reliable sample of water from the communities receiving treatment. He took samples of water from local households, which were later tested to determine their counts of e.coli and coliforms. Dennis carries a cooler as he works to ensure that the water is kept at the right temperature prior to its arrival at the lab.

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After surveying individual households and obtaining water samples, Dennis walks to a borehole on the edge of the village. He's pictured here, receiving some help from a local child as he obtains a water sample from the borehole. Ultimately, water from the borehole will be compared to samples obtained from the local households.  Comparing water quality at the source and at the point of use can help NDIGD researchers understand if community members understand how to keep their water clean in their home, and if they are taking the necessary steps to do so.

After all water samples have been collected, Dennis brings his samples to a local temporary lab, set up by the NDIGD research team in a strategic location to minimize travel time from the local community. At the lab, a technician will test the water and determine its cleanliness, or if there is a presence of coliforms or e.coli. The various water samples are labeled and poured into testing packets, and the packets are sealed for incubation as part of their testing. They remain in the incubator for 18 hours.

Following a period of incubation, results from the samples are revealed. Pictured, the lab technician holds up the IDEXX Colilert 18® Testing packets. The water samples on the left were taken from the community, with the yellow color indicating the existence of coliforms. This can be compared to the water on the right, which was purchased in small sachets, and is totally pure and safe for drinking. The IDEXX test also provides estimates of e.coli counts. Under the black lighting, you can see that certain samples are much brighter than others. These bright samples indicate the presence of e. coli.

All of the findings from the samples will be analyzed, as will the information gained from the surveys of the local populations. In comparing and analyzing the data, NDIGD M&E Specialists will be able to provide the Millennium Challenge Corporation with an understanding of whether and how their project impacted the local community’s health, economic situation, knowledge, and behavior.  They will also report on if or how the provision of improved water sources changed average water quality levels both at the source and in the household. This information can inform MCC’s program implementation moving forward, which can lead to improved situations for local populations in Ghana.