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IHS Mission & Goals:
Groom Skills,
Gather Evidence and
Generate Knowledge for people's health.

To Improve the Efficacy,
Quality & Equity
of Health Systems.

 

      

 Consumer complaints surveillance for water safety.

     


Consumers may become aware of potential problems with the safety of their drinking-water because of their own senses or informal networks. To a large extent, consumers have no means of judging the safety of their drinking-water themselves, but their attitude towards their drinking-water supply and their drinking-water suppliers will be affected to a considerable extent by the aspects of water quality that they are able to perceive with their own senses. It is natural for consumers to regard with suspicion water that appears dirty or discoloured or that has an unpleasant taste or smell, even though these characteristics may not in themselves be of direct consequence to health. Trust and goodwill from consumers are extremely important in both the short and long term. Consumers have an important role to play in assisting the authorities in an incident by their own actions and by carrying out the necessary measures at the household level.

Figure 1: Components of a Contamination Warning System for Water Utilities. Consumer feedback and complaints provide utilities with useful data about consumer perceptions of aesthetic water quality in the distribution system. Consumers as real-time sensors are uniquely positioned to provide feedback. These feedbacks may be specific such as chlorine smell or general such as "polluted water", "bad smell", etc. A responsive consumer-complaints handling system is an essential aid to development and implementation of water safety plans. The idea of such a surveillance system emerged out of a pilot study of selected consumers who had registered repeated complaints with the Metro Consumer Complaints (MCC) system of the Hyderabad Metro Water Supply and Sewerage Board (HMWSSB).

The sample size for consumer complaints surveillance system would depend on availability of funds and the granularity of desired estimates. A minimum sample size of about 1200 consumer complaints per year was considered appropriate for robust organisation-wide estimates annual estimates and to build-up more granular estimates by cumulating date for several years, as the system gets established. The sample size is distributed month-wise, for concurrent operation of the CC surveillance system and balance estimate based on consumer experiences throughout the year. At first, each sampled consumer is approached to obtain informed consent for the survey. Sometimes a consumer may refuse consent to proceed with the survey, after the informed consent process. Rarely a consumer would consent, and the survey would progress to some extent but remain incomplete on account of unexpected circumstances. All such cases are reported to the project coordinator, who would either find a solution to proceed with the survey, and where this is not feasible, would authorise replacement samples.

A basic system vulnerability (BSV) test-package has been designed to help identify distribution system vulnerabilities for environmental and sewage contamination.

Table 1: Basic Vulnerability Test Parameters to help identify vulnerabilities in distribution system to environmental and/or sewage contamination.
Parameters Rationale for inclusion of the parameter
1 General Color, Odour, Turbidity, pH & TDS Backsiphonage is sometimes associated with disagreeable odor (drainage or sewage smell), increased turbidity, and TDS.
2 Chemical Ammonia, Nitrites & Nitrates; Chlorides.
Excess of ammonia; (a) is an important indicator of faecal pollution, (b) affect taste & smell, and (c) reduce efficiency of chlorination, as up to 68% of the chlorine may react with the ammonia and become unavailable for disinfection. High level nitrites and nitrate indicate probable environmental and sewage contamination. Nitrites indicate recent contamination. Nitrates indicate older contamination. Presence of both may be due to a continuing source of contamination. Chloride in drinking-water originates from natural sources, sewage and industrial effluents.
3 Microbial MPN (Total Coliforms), Thermotolerant & E. coli.
Plenty of total coliforms indicates that there may be some issues regarding cleanliness and integrity of the distribution system. Presence of thermotolerant coliforms suggests environmental pollution including the possibility of sewage contamination. Presence of E. coli is a definitive sign of sewage (fecal) contamination.


The survey instrument has been designed to help with a structured and detailed conversation about consumers' experience of the complaints-resolution process. In addition, this survey provides a cost-effective opportunity to gather primary data regarding domestic water storage infrastructure, water handling practices and domestic sewage systems, and the state of street sewers nearby the sampled consumer premises. The Survey Instrument includes, (a) questions to gather information from the consumer/informant, (b) rating scales to measure informant’s assessment of water utility response to their complaints, and (c) items for recording surveyor's observation of domestic water supply and sewage system. The instrument was fine-tuned during the course of survey, based on field experiences and additional information needs.

Before embarking on the survey, the Water Quality Investigator (surveyor) visits the concerned MWB - Section Office to, inform about the survey, identify the service reservoir that supplies to the sampled consumer, gather information about the distribution line to the sampled consumer. Sometimes, people at Sections Office may also help with directions to locate the consumer premises. Surveyors visit the concerned consumer premises, twice. First, to locate the consumer premises, identify an appropriate respondent, gather detailed information regarding the water quality complaint and fill in the consumer survey instrument. Information regarding water supply timing is gathered at this time. If, by chance, there is live metro water supply at the time of first visit to sampled consumer's premises, the surveyor would test for residual chlorine and collect a sample for laboratory analysis. Mostly, however, the surveyor makes a follow-up visit, during the water supply timings, to test for residual chlorine and collect a sample of metro water supplied to the consumer (live supply) for laboratory testing. Occasionally, particularly if the supply times are from midnight to early morning, the surveyor would give a presterilised sample collection bottle to the informant/consumer, explain the procedure and request him/her to collection a sample of metro water during live supply. In such cases the surveyor visits the household the next day morning to collect the water sample and deliver it to the IHS laboratory for testing. On the spot testing for residual chlorine would not be feasible for these cases. The surveyor also visits the concerned service reservoir, preferably within the scheduled supply time for the sampled household, tests for residual chlorine and collects a sample for laboratory analysis.

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