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Published on: 02/08/2011

Water borne diseases are the third cause of infant mortality in the world. In Burkina Faso, the rate is one of the highest: 91 for one thousand in 2009. The causes listed to explain the recrudescence of these diseases are poor awareness of hygiene and insufficient access to potable water. To fight against this problem, the government increased access to safe drinking water in rural areas by drilling boreholes. Indeed, underground water resources, less exposed to climatic hazards, are generally of better quality than surface water.

Surprisingly, the impact of these measures on the health of the populations was minimal according to UNICEF. The International Institute for Water and Environmental Engineering (2iE) at UNICEF’s request conducted a study on analysing microbiology and physic-chemical quality of the water along its supply chain (welling, transport, storage).This was coupled with a study on behavioural practices of hygiene linked to supply of water.

Specifically, the objectives of the study were to:

  • measure the impact of training on global hygiene given previously by local NOGs;
  • study the evolution of quality of water along its supply chain;
  • identify factors that can alter the quality of water,
  • establish a statistical link between the quality of water and household lifestyles; and
  • suggest improvements in transport and storage of water.


This four-month study conducted from March to June 2011 was undertaken in ten villages of the Ganzourgou province, a Central region in Burkina Faso. Five villages received training on general hygiene and five received no training. The training was focused on global hygiene and water quality conservation and dedicated to women (about 90 per village) in charge of the family life.

The goal of the study was to assess the impact of training on the quality of water. Subsequently, a survey was undertaken in each village on a sample of 40 households. A household questionnaire was divided into two parts: the first on the general behaviour with regard to hygiene and the second on knowledge, practice and perception of the water supply chain. The objective was to analyze people’s behavioural activity in the areas of hygiene and their relation to water. A second part focused on the quality of water. A sampling of different sites enabled the assessment of the quality of water at its source. Then, two samples were taken amongst 10 of the 40 households: one after transport and one after storage in the home (before new collection). This enabled the characterization of water quality at each stage (source, transport and storage). The parameters analyzed on these samples were essentially microbiological (total coli form, Escherichia coli, faecal streptococci) indicating contamination by pathogen germs causing water borne diseases.  


The results of these studies were grouped statistically with the results of the surveys in order to establish one or more links between practice and use of water and microbiological recontamination. Findings from the quality of water at the source, showed that water was mostly exempt from contamination (82% of drilling areas were free of bacteria). Nevertheless, comparing water quality (transport and storage) between educated households and non educated households, the study showed little impact of hygiene training programmes on the water quality of the stored water.

The transport phase was also not found to be the most problematic. In 64% of cases, the quality of water was maintained after transport. For the 36% contaminated, the presence of germs was linked to the use of transport containers with narrow entry, which are difficult to clean effectively and likely to develop biofilms and algae around the edges. 

The storage at home was found to be the most critical factor. Cross analysis of results from microbiological studies and answers to the questionnaire shed light on the main practices responsible for this. Children and animals accessing stored water were the most important factors contributing to contamination. The practice of using a cup to collect the water from the source was also found responsible for micro-organisms entering into contact with the water. Lastly, the cleanliness of the recipient as well as the hygiene of the household had a major impact on the quality of water.    


The study showed that the quality of water collected from the boreholes was relatively good, that it deteriorated along the transport route and mostly while it was stored in households. Training programmes on hygiene are a good start to sensitize populations to the preservation of the quality of water, but they have a limited impact. The phases of transport and storage must be optimized. Transporting in a container that has a large opening will make cleaning easier and more effective. A better protection of home storage will limit access by children and / or animals – e.g. storing water one meter above the ground. Using a valve, faucet or ladle in order to avoid direct contact of water with objects or outside users is also useful. Finally, in order to obtain water quality in accordance with WHO standards, treating the water at home seems inevitable. UNICEF and major NGOs working in this field should take these criteria into account.

Franck Lalanne, International Institute for Water and Environmental Engineering (2iE)  

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