A Ford Program research associate has co-authored an article on the quality of bagged sachet water in rural Ghana that has been published nationally.

Danice Brown Guzmán, also a research associate at the Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development (NDIGD), co-authored "An Evolving Choice in a Diverse Water Market: A Quality Comparison of Sachet Water with Community and Household Water Sources in Ghana," with Justin Stoler, an associate professor at the University of Miami.

The article explores the results of a study on the quality of bagged sachet water in rural communities in Ghana, and has been published in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, a peer-reviewed journal published by the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH).

Their research was funded by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which awarded NDIGD a contract in 2013 to evaluate investments made by MCC in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) across rural Ghana between 2007 and 2012.

Guzmán’s primary research interests include food security, water and sanitation, relief and resilience. Her work to date has largely focused on monitoring and evaluation in the context of refugee programming, and conducting large-scale experimental and quasi-experimental impact evaluations of international development activities across various sectors and regions.

The article notes the lack of existing data on the quality of sachet water outside large urban centers in Ghana – a country with one of the highest sachet water consumption rates in the world – as well as at large. “Sachet water has become an important primary water source in urban centers,” they write. “Rural Ghanaian communities are often secondary markets with higher distribution costs, thus cottage-industry producers often continue to operate with less competition, and unfortunately, less regulation, and quality control.”

They focus on the results of endline data collection completed in May 2015, during which the researchers visited 42 rural, peri-urban, and small-town Ghanaian communities and compared sachet water samples sold to these communities to local water samples from sources such as household rainwater tanks, public taps, standpipes, and boreholes.

The researchers primarily tested for comparative levels of coliform bacteria, which is often present in water contaminated by fecal matter, as well as E. coli. They found that the sachet water samples contained fewer microbiological contaminants than the local water samples, when compared to both water transported to and stored in homes, and water tested directly from the source (such as wells or public taps). The researchers attribute this to the fact that sachet water has fewer cross-contamination opportunities than local water, which is more susceptible to cross-contamination due to factors like improper storage or a lack of high quality water transport systems.

Guzmán and Stoler suggest that despite an increase in the availability of sachet water in developing countries like Ghana in recent decades, “improvements in availability alone do not necessarily translate into improved water security, and it is not clear that sachets would confer a long-term health benefit to people who intermittently consumed water from unsafe sources.”

They also explain that additional research needs to be done in several areas – such as the impact of plastic waste generated by sachet water bags or how sachet water quality is affected by long-term storage and transportation – to better determine the holistic utility of sachet water in developing communities.

Established in 1921 and published monthly, The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene focuses on research concerning “population, clinical and laboratory science and the application of technology in the fields of tropical medicine, parasitology, immunology, infectious diseases, epidemiology, basic and molecular biology, virology and international medicine.”

Originally published at ndigd.nd.edu.

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