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Microbial quality of drinking water from groundtanks and tankers at source and point-of-use in eThekwini Municipality, South Africa, and its relationship to health outcomes

U Singh
R Lutchmanariyan
J Wright
S Knight
S Jackson
J Langmark
D Vosloo
N Rodda


Drinking water quality was investigated at source and corresponding point-of-use in 2 peri-urban areas receiving drinking water either by communal water tanker or by delivery directly from the distribution system to household-based groundtanks with taps. Water quality variables measured were heterotrophic bacteria, total coliforms, E. coli, conductivity, turbidity, pH, and total and residual chlorine. Water quality data were analysed together with an existing epidemiological database to investigate links between microbial quality of drinking water, household demographics, health outcomes, socio-economic status, hygiene and sanitation practices. Groundtank households had better quality drinking water than households using storage containers filled from communal tankers. Uncovered storage containers had the poorest microbial water quality among all storage containers. All stored water did not meet drinking water standards, although mains water did. Households with children under 5 years and using open-topped containers had the poorest water quality overall. Households with groundtanks had the best water quality at point-of-use, but did not have the lowest occurrence of health effects. Although groundtanks were supplied together with urine diversion (UD) toilets and hygiene education, groundtank households showed overall poorer hygiene practices than tanker-supplied households, and some groundtank households with UD toilets preferred to continue using open defecation. Households that practised open defecation had higher levels of E. coli in their drinking water and higher rates of adverse health outcomes. Poorer socio-economic standing and lower educational standard were associated with poorer water quality, poorer hygiene practices and higher rates of diarrhoea and vomiting.

Keywords: drinking water; point of use; water quality; water quantity; hygiene; sanitation