UNSW Global Water Institute Research - Drinking water Vietnam

Decision-making tools for water treatment in rural Vietnam

Globally, over 680 million people lack access to safe drinking water and an additional 159 million people are dependent on untreated surface water (WHO, 2017). These statistics are alarming, but recently there has been a shift in many developing populations turning attention to managing water supply and treatment to address health issues, alleviate societal inefficiencies and death rates and in some cases poverty and socio-economic inequalities.

There are hundreds of different types of water contaminants and dozens of different treatment tools and techniques available. With so many variables and so many treatment options, how can water users identify the safest and most effective form of water treatment?

Carmen Fung, a final year student with UNSW Sydney’s School of Chemical Engineering, has developed an innovative tool to help communities in rural Vietnam do exactly that, enabling households suitably treat their water so that it is safe for human consumption.

The tool requires the user to complete a survey asking nine key questions about characteristics of the water to be treated, the size of their household and other situational information. The final question in the survey asks the user to prioritise certain features for the treatment technology in order of importance (i.e. the size of the technology, the cost of the technology, whether it’s easy to operate and whether it’s easy to maintain). A technology database comprises a shortlist of seven options, which are scored according to a detailed analysis, and a matching algorithm links the user to the most appropriate treatment technology options, given the water quality and other situational information provided through the survey. The generated selection of technology alternatives are then ranked from most to least appropriate.

Carmen’s innovative approach requiring the water user to complete a survey has educational benefits, too.

“Responding to the questionnaire gives the user the opportunity to reflect on current water quality and practices and provides awareness into the considerations involved in selecting appropriate technologies,” said Carmen.

“This educative element to the tool is valuable in increasing user understanding of both the process and technologies, which will promote more successful uptake and ownership in the intended implementation and operation.”

In future work, the database of technologies may be expanded to accommodate a wider range of technologies or a different scope. The tool may also be streamlined by considering local feedback and developed into a mobile application for user accessibility.

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