Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Stories from the Field: WaterGuard and Behavior Change: The Mzungus and their strange American water

By Stephanie Ullrich

We have now been told multiple times that people in this community do not believe that we are drinking the same water as them from the borehole or shallow well. Apparently they have been observing our reusable water bottles and thought that we brought our own special water from the United States with us.

When this happened again today, Douglas- one of our Ugandan team members- ensured the woman that we were indeed drinking the same water as her, but also using WaterGuard to treat it. Waterguard is a water purification tablet used in 20L of water for 30 minutes to kill the bacteria in the water. After we fetch water from the borehole, we put one tablet into our Jerry can labeled “drinking water” and let it sit before its ready to drink or use for brushing our teeth. WaterGuard is sold locally at all village trading posts, and it’s the water purification technique that UVP promotes in the villages.

When the women insisted that the water treated with WaterGuard tasted and smelled funny, Douglas even went so far as to prove to her that there was no difference. He emptied the woman’s mug and took Andre’s water from his water bottle to pour it into her mug. After she tasted it she said she could not tell the difference between her old water and Andre’s treated water.

We anticipate that promoting WaterGuard is going to be one of the hardest challenges we face because it centers on sustained behavior change. Not only are we asking the village members to buy WaterGuard on a regular basis, we are asking them to treat water that they perceive as already ok to drink straight from the borehole. It is hard to prove to them that the water is not fit for drinking before treatment because they have been drinking it for years. We will struggle to prove to them this because no one can physically see the bacteria in the water. And we will struggle to prove to them that using WaterGuard could save them money in the long run because it clean water can prevent child diarrhea (aka advanced charges for medicine and treatment) and taking away productive work days because of sickness.

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