Reducing waterborne diseases from shallow wells in the developing world
Submitting InstitutionLeeds Metropolitan University
Unit of AssessmentArchitecture, Built Environment and Planning
Summary Impact TypeEnvironmental
Research Subject Area(s)
Chemical Sciences: Analytical Chemistry
Biological Sciences: Microbiology
Engineering: Environmental Engineering
Summary of the impact
This study analysed the shallow well drinking water quality of 17,000
rural Malawians. Water officials were advised interim precautions to take
regarding grossly contaminated wells. Inter alia, the `Water
Resources Investment Strategy', World Bank funded, captured this data to
help develop policy. A new MSc course was established to educate water
officials. Workshops/Fieldtrips integrated this research into the
undergraduate curriculum. An indigenous sustainable natural water
purification system was developed to reduce contaminates at source.
Initial data indicates that water quality can be improved by up to 80%.
This has the potential to improve the water quality for 1.5 million
Water-related diseases are responsible for 80% of all illnesses in
developing countries and kill more than five million people every year.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) construct shallow wells to try to
meet the 2015 MDG — target 7c; however they have not implemented
monitoring programmes to ensure that the water remains potable. The
preconception is that because these people have an engineered well, they
have an adequate drinking water source — this is often far from the case.
Hence, there is a vital need to develop cheap, sustainable ways to
significantly improve the quality.
To provide a detailed investigation of shallow well water quality, a
database from six districts in Southern Malawi was developed. Over 2,700
samples were analysed (2005-07) for chemical, microbiological and physical
The most suitable method to remove coliforms and turbidity from water is
via the process of coagulation. The two chemicals commonly used are
aluminium sulphate and ferric sulphate. The limited availability and
relative expense of these chemicals has led to other more widely available
indigenous coagulants being sought for developing countries. Natural plant
extracts have been available for water purification for many centuries.
However, the science and engineering application of the use of plant
extracts have not, really, been developed. To address this, an inventory
of plant extracts was formulated. A prioritisation system was derived (in
2008) to select the most suitable extracts, which took into account such
criteria as availability, purifb01cation potential, yield and costs(4,8).
An empirical parametric study was then undertaken (2008-10) to optimise
the performance on the most promising plant extracts together with initial
cytotoxicity analyses, both in the laboratory and in the field(9).
Laboratory experiments were undertaken in the microbiology and civil
engineering laboratories at Leeds Met, forming an interdisciplinary
element to the project (e.g. 5,6); data from these experiments
were then fed into field studies in Malawi (2010-11) regarding the
development of a water purification system(11).
The first stage the full-scale Malawi field trial commenced July 2013.
The trial consists of a shallow well with a `bolt-on' water purification
system, housing a low cost telemetry cell phone network system to remotely
monitor the performance of the well(12).
A new MSc programme was established in Malawi (2009) to increase the
level of knowledge of water officials, stakeholders and the alike (10).
Engagement workshops and laboratory sessions also ran throughout 2012/13.
These sessions were precursors to the international volunteering field
trial, which included 14 multi-disciplinary undergraduate students from
both Malawi and the UK.
Dr Martin Pritchard, a Reader at Leeds Met, overall directs this research
work. Dr Alan Edmondson, a Principal Lecturer in Microbiology at Leeds
Met; Dr Andy Swan, a Senior Lecturer in Civil Engineering at Leeds Met;
Professor Theresa Mkandawire from Malawi Polytechnic and Professor Gary
O'Neill from Creh Analytical all contributed towards the success of this
project. The work to-date has included three PhD projects — ranging from
monitoring in the field in Africa, to undertaking laboratory trials in the
UK, to becoming a hybrid of both.
References to the research
1. Pritchard, M., Mkandawire T. and O'Neill, J.G. (2007) `Biological,
Chemical and Physical Drinking Water Quality from Shallow Wells in Malawi:
Case Study of Blantyre, Chiradzulu and Mulanje', Physics and Chemistry of
the Earth Journal, Vol. 32, Aug. pp. 1167-1177, ISBN 1474-7065 —
Peer-reviewed, impact factor 0.653, 5-year impact factor: 1.171.
2. Pritchard, M., Mkandawire T. and O'Neill, J.G. (2008) `Assessment of
groundwater quality in shallow wells within the southern districts of
Malawi, Physics and Chemistry of the Earth Journal, Vol. 33, Aug. pp.
812-823. ISBN 1474-7065 — Peer-reviewed, impact factor 1.362, 5-year
impact factor: 1.138.
3. Pritchard, M., Mkandawire, T., O'Neill, J.G., Edmondson, A. and
Craven, T. `Water Quality Monitoring from Shallow Wells in Malawi: Case
Study 2005-2007' Chapter 6 in Columbus, F. (2009), `Water Quality:
Physical, Chemical and Biological Characteristics', Nova Science
Publishers, Inc. ISBN: 978-1-60741-633-3.
4. Pritchard, M, Mkandawire, T., Edmondson, A. O'Neill J.G. and
Kululanga, G. (2009) "Potential of using plant extracts for purification
of shallow well water in Malawi", Physics and Chemistry of the Earth
Journal, Vol. 34, Aug. pp. 799-805. ISBN 1474-7065 — Peer-reviewed, impact
factor 0.975, 5-year impact factor: 1.292.
5. Pritchard, M., Craven, T., Mkandawire, T., Edmondson, A. and O'Neill
J.G. (2010) "A comparison between Moringa oleifera and chemical
coagulants in the purification of drinking water — an alternative
sustainable solution for developing countries", Physics and Chemistry of
the Earth Journal, Vol. 35, Aug. pp. 798-805. ISBN 1474-7065 —
Peer-reviewed, impact factor 0.975, 5-year impact factor: 1.292 (based on
6. Pritchard, M., Craven, T., Mkandawire, T., Edmondson, A. and O'Neill
J.G. (2010) "A study of the parameters affecting the effectiveness of Moringa
oleifera in drinking water purification", Physics and Chemistry of
the Earth Journal, Vol. 35, Aug. pp. 791-797. ISBN 1474-7065 —
Peer-reviewed, impact factor 0.975, 5-year impact factor: 1.292 (based on
Grants & Awards:
7. US$38,500 — Water Research Fund for Southern Africa (WARFSA) `Plant
Extracts to Improve Groundwater Quality in Shallow Wells', Project P232,
8. £50,000 — PhD bursary, `Plant Extracts to Improve Groundwater Quality
in Shallow Wells'. July 2004-12.
9. £50,000 — PhD bursary, `A novel water purification system using Moringa
oleifera for shallow wells in Malawi', July 2007-10.
10. £90,000 — DelPHE round 4 `Sub-BE' No. 603 — PI, funding to develop an
MSc programme for the Polytechnic University of Malawi, Sept 2009-12.
11. €3,000 — WaterNET — `Development of a novel water purification
technology using plant extracts for rural villages in Malawi — site
trial', SDF, April 2011 to Sept 2011.
12. €350,000 — FP7 — IRSES: AguaSocial (Social Innovation in the Water
Details of the impact
The flow chart below outlines the work undertaken to demonstrate the
types of impact achieved:
Water quality results indicated that shallow well water was heavily
polluted with both total and faecal coliforms, especially after the on-set
of the rains. About 95% of all the wells tested failed to meet safe
drinking water values for untreated water in the wet season, while about
80% of the wells failed in the dry season(1,2,3). It was noted
that the main forms of contamination from shallow wells emanate from
bacteriological and physical constituents; in contrast, the main form of
contamination from boreholes stem from chemical elements. The detrimental
impact on human health of chemical contamination normally requires many
decades of exposure before it can be recognised. Where life spans are
short due to high incidence of infectious diseases emanating from
bacteriological contamination, it is this form of contamination that needs
to be addressed first for the developing world. To immediately try to
minimise water related diseases, Water Officers and Village Chiefs were
informed (2006-08) of the wells, which were yielding grossly biologically
contaminated water(A); and hence advised to either just use
this water source for washing or to boil the water for at least one minute
From this data a series of publications were formed(e.g. 1-6).
Inter alia, these fed into the Government of the Republic of Malawi
Ministry of Irrigation and Water Development, Second National Water
Develop Project (NWDP II — 2011) entitled `Water Resources Investment
Strategy', World Bank funded(B); hence used to developed
policy. The field sampling data has also been presented to MPs at the
House of Commons and has provided direction to others researchers(e.g.C-H).
Laboratory trials were undertaken on Moringa oleifera,
Jatropha curcas and Guar gum extracts. Toxicity tests were also
conducted on these extracts. These trials showed that the addition of
plant extracts can considerably improve the quality of shallow well water.
About 70% reduction in TC and FC was noted on average. At optimum dosage,
turbidity reduction of water ranged from 10-100% for the three plant
extracts. All three extracts proved non-toxic at the recommended
concentrations for water treatment based on the ecotoxicity results. To
implement the use of local plant extracts, grown throughout rural
villages, a novel small-scale `bolt-on' shallow well water purification
system has been developed. Initial field data demonstrates that
improvement in shallow well water quality of around 80% can be achieved.
Hence, if implemented for every shallow well in Malawi around 1.5 million
Malawians could have significantly improved water sources. Interest in
applying the technology on a larger-scale has been expressed by NGOs and
the private sector(G) and will be further developed once the
full-scale site trial has been completed. It is hoped that such a system
will provide a unique sustainable and economical solution to significantly
reduce waterborne diseases to some of the poorest people in the world.
In addition to actually conducting the research work, funding from DelPHE
(2009-12) was awarded to develop a new style MSc course, in conjunction
with the Polytechnic University of Malawi(10). Prior to the
onset of this course people in the public or industrial sectors had to
leave their jobs (travel overseas) and thus become a full-time student to
gain a higher qualification, due to the limitations of available courses
in-country. The associated costs, both financial and emotional for
studying overseas are high. Also, what they are taught and encouraged to
research, in general, targets the cultural and economic situation in the
host country; little benefit may accrue to the student's country of
origin. In addition, after they have gained their qualification it might
be a few years before they gain employment again in their home country. A
market had developed for good quality assured postgraduate courses that
can be delivered in-country at an affordable cost, enabling students to
maintain full employment during their studies. A total of 39 students are
currently (2013) studying on this programme.
Sources to corroborate the impact
A. Water Officers in Malawi have used this data to select which wells
should be directed towards supplying drinking water or providing water for
B. Data from this study has been fed into the: `Water Resources
Investment Strategy, Component 1 — Water Resources Assessment' Government
of the Republic of Malawi Ministry of Irrigation and Water Development
Second National Water Development Project (NWDP II), April, 2011. Funded
by the World Bank.
C. An individual user, of the published data at Washington State
University in the United Sates in Environmental and Natural Resource
Sciences has recently (January 2012) undertaken a `replica' study in
northern Malawi based on the findings from our study in southern Malawi.
Places where our work has been cited include, e.g.:
D. Terms of Reference for the Study on Drinking Water Quality for Low
Cost Water Sources in Malawi, funded by Unicerf, Code/ SC/2007/00664.
E. Monjerezi, M., Vogt, R.D., Aagaard, P., Saka, J.D.K. (2011)
`Hydro-geochemical processes in an area with saline groundwater in lower
Shire River valley, Malawi: An integrated application of hierarchical
cluster and principal component analyses', Geochemistry, Vol. 26,
8, pp. 1399-1413.
F. Chidya, R.C.G., Sajidu, S.M.I., Mwatseteza, J.F., Masamba, W.R.L.
(2011) `Evaluation and assessment of water quality in Likangala River and
its catchment area' Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, Vol. 36,
issue 14-15, year 2011, pp. 865-871.
Interest in large-scale implementation of technology include:
G. NG Bailey and Drop4Drop.