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Journal of Water and Health In Press, Uncorrected Proof © IWA Publishing 2014  |  doi:10.2166/wh.2014.010

A critique of boiling as a method of household water treatment in South India

Luke Juran and Morgan C. MacDonald

Department of Geography and Virginia Water Resources Research Center, Virginia Tech, 125 Major Williams Hall, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA E-mail: ljuran@vt.edu; lukejuran@yahoo.com
School of Engineering, University of Guelph, 3120 Thornbrough, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada

First received 13 January 2013; accepted in revised form 13 March 2014. Available online 5 April 2014


This article scrutinizes the boiling of water in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, India. Boiling, as it is commonly practiced, improves water quality, but its full potential is not being realized. Thus, the objective is to refine the method in practice, promote acceptability, and foster the scalability of boiling and household water treatment (HWT) writ large. The study is based on bacteriological samples from 300 households and 80 public standposts, 14 focus group discussions (FGDs), and 74 household interviews. Collectively, the data fashion both an empirical and ethnographic understanding of boiling. The rate and efficacy of boiling, barriers to and caveats of its adoption, and recommendations for augmenting its practice are detailed. While boiling is scientifically proven to eliminate bacteria, data demonstrate that pragmatics inhibit their total destruction. Furthermore, data and the literature indicate that a range of cultural, economic, and ancillary health factors challenge the uptake of boiling. Fieldwork and resultant knowledge arrive at strategies for overcoming these impediments. The article concludes with recommendations for selecting, introducing, and scaling up HWT mechanisms. A place-based approach that can be sustained over the long-term is espoused, and prolonged exposure by the interveners coupled with meaningful participation of the target population is essential.

Keywords: boiling; household water treatment; India; point-of-use treatment; public health interventions; water

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