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Determinants of the use of alternatives to arsenic-contaminated shallow groundwater: an exploratory study in rural West Bengal, India.


Shallow groundwater containing toxic concentrations of arsenic is the primary source of drinking water for millions of households in rural West Bengal, India. Often, this water also contains unpleasant levels of iron and non-negligible fecal contamination. Alternatives to shallow groundwater are increasingly available, including government-built deep tubewells, water purchased from independent providers, municipal piped water, and household filters. We conducted a survey of 501 households in Murshidabad district in 2014 to explore what influenced the use of available alternatives. Socioeconomic status and the perceived likelihood of gastrointestinal (GI) illness (which was associated with dissatisfaction with iron in groundwater) were the primary determinants of the use of alternatives. Arsenic knowledge was limited. The choice amongst alternatives was influenced by economic, social, and aesthetic factors, but not by health risk perceptions. The use of purchased water was rarely exclusive and was strongly associated with socioeconomic status, suggesting that this form of market-based water provision does not ensure universal access. Demand for purchased water appeared to decrease significantly shortly after free piped water became available at public taps. Our results suggest that arsenic mitigation interventions that also address co-occurring water problems (iron, GI illness) could be more effective than a focus on arsenic alone.

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