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Water quality – is the water that we consume clean?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), attaining universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030 will be a major challenge, particularly in urban slum communities. Lets examine how an urban slum gets water, and what kind of water does it get.

Worldwide, 1 billion people practice open defecation – 9 out of 10 in rural areas.

748 million people lack access to improved drinking water and it is estimated that 1.8 billion people use a source of drinking water that is contaminated. An equal access to clean water is just as important as any other human right.

Find an urban slum near your school or your home. Along with your teacher, visit the slum (or any settlement of urban poor) to check the quality of water available to them and what kind of sanitation facilities they have access to. Decide on the date/dates on which the school will visit the site and take prior permission before entering the site if required.

Precautions: Safety comes first.

  1. Carry hand gloves to protect your hands from coming in contact with any unwanted objects and contaminants.
  2. Carry transparent bottles, preferably recycled, to collect water samples.
  3. Wear suitable shoes with proper grip to avoid slipping.
  4. Carry a camera if you wish to photo-document your activity

Getting started

A slum, as per the Government of India Census, is defined as residential areas where dwellings are unfit for human habitation by reasons of dilapidation, overcrowding, faulty arrangements and design of such buildings, narrowness or faulty arrangement of street, lack of ventilation, light, or sanitation facilities or any combination of these factors which are detrimental to the safety and health of the residents.

The easiest way to check the quality of the water that we are using is by  observing its physical appearance (clear, colourless)  checking its odour (odourless)

For getting the information we need on water quality and sanitation facilities, we would need to interview at least six people – maybe three males and three females. Make sure they are all residents of the slum.

Age of the respondents can be:
[15-25 years]  [26-35 years]  [35-45 years]  [46-55 years] [above 55 years]

Given below are a few questions which will help you do the interview. You may wish to add more questions according to the situation.

 Do you have government water supply?  [Yes]  [No]

 If yes, what kind of government water supply do you have?  [Individual]  [Community]

Questions for people who don’t have taps at individual household level:

 If no, from where do you source your water?

Private tankers

Community open wells/handpump/ borewells attached to pumps Surface water (water that gets collected  on the ground after rain is termed as surface  water e.g. river, lake, pond and stream.)

Borrow from nearby residential colony

  Any other, please specify: ________________________

 In case you have community taps, do they leak?  [Yes]  [No]

  If yes, then what is the state of maintenance and repair? _________________________________

On the availability and scarcity of water:

   What is the timing for the water supply?

Is there a fight during water collection?  [Yes]  [No]

Is the water good enough for drinking?   [Yes]  [No]

Who carries the water from the tap to the residence?  [Ladies]  [Children]  [Both]

 How much time is spent on collecting water? ________________ minutes (per day)

 Do the ladies/children suffer from any back aches (or any other problems) as they have to carry  water?
   [Yes] [No]

 Do the children miss school?  [Yes] [No]

 Do the residents have to buy water?  [Yes]  [No]

After the interview, let’s collect water samples from three different sources around the slum and run some simple tests to check the water quality.

The water samples should be collected from:

  1. Surface water source like pond/lake/river/traditional water harvesting structure
  2. Groundwaters pumped through borewell/tubewell/hand pump or get it from open wells
  3. Tap water – get water from the public tap near the slum

In case of surface water, collect the water samples from the edges of the water source (from accessible areas). After collecting the sample, immediately label each bottle and in a journal, note down the site, date and time of the collection. Click a picture of the site, if possible, while carrying out the activity.

Now run the following two tests to check the quality of the collected water samples:

 pH test: This test will tell us the acidity or basicity of the water sample collected. pH stands for the concentration of H+ (Hydrogen ion) and is checked by using a litmus paper. If the litmus paper turns red on coming in contact with the water sample collected, it indicates that the water sample is acidic in nature. And if the litmus paper turns blue, then it indicates that the water sample is alkaline/basic. Appearance of a light green colour on the litmus paper indicates that the water sample is neutral and that it is safe to consume.

Required materials: Hand gloves, water bottles, glass beakers and litmus paper.

Here is a table to note down the readings from your activity.

S.No. Test Sample 1 (Surface ater source) Sample 2 (Groundwater
Sample 3 (Tap water source)
1 pH (red, blue or green)
2 Turbidity (Turbid/Not Turbid) (colour can be brown, muddy, etc)
3 Odour

 Turbidity test: This test will enable us to determine the amount of suspended particles (coarse solid particles which remain heterogeneously mixed with water, making the water appear
uclear) present in the water sample.  A less turbid water sample will appear clearer, while a turbid water sample will appear cloudy. And clean drinking water should always appear clear.

Required materials: Hand gloves, water bottles and glass beakers.

  1. Many a times, the water appears clear but is accompanied by a foul odour. Any kind of odour can be a question on the purity of the water and before consuming it, one must make sure that the water gets properly filtered. The simplest filtration methods include gravel filters and boiling the water. Do you filter water for safe use?
    [Yes] [No]
  1. If yes, then give reasons for filtering the water.


If no, then congratulations! The slum residents have got access to clean water. Keep maintaining it.

iii.  While collecting the water samples, note down the surrounding of the source (whether it was clean or was it filled with garbage or was there any vegetation on the water surface). If it is polluted, then find out who polluted it?



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