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Perspectives on impacts of water quality on agriculture and community well-being—a key informant study from Sri Lanka


Integrated management of water quality is critical for sustaining food production and achieving overall well-being of a community. Further, understanding people’s perceptions and engagement can play an important role in achieving water and food security. The main aim of this study was to investigate the perspectives of community and other stakeholders as to how water quality impacts on agriculture, livelihood and community well-being within rural farming communities of two dry zone districts of Sri Lanka. The study adopted ‘key informant interviews’ as the methodology to investigate community and other stakeholder perspectives to collect primary data over a period of four months. The interview contents were then examined using a frequency matrix and graphed using an Excel graphing tool. The raw text was also analysed to understand the broader patterns in the text. A fuzzy logic cognitive map (FCM) was developed using the relationships between various concepts and linkages provided by the key informants. All key informants were concerned with the quality of drinking water they consume and the water used for their food preparation. Key informants representing the farming community indicated that the use of poor quality groundwater with higher levels of hardness has made growing crops difficult in the region. The key informants also identified extensive and ongoing use of agro-chemicals and fertilisers as a major source of pollution in water bodies in both spatio-temporal scale. Based on key informant interviews, possible initiatives that can help improve surface water and groundwater qualities for both drinking and agricultural use in the dry zone of Sri Lanka can be categorised into four broader themes, viz., provision of filtering/treatment systems, reduction in the use of agro-chemical and fertilisers, education of community stakeholders and support of alternative options for portable water supplies. The study indicates that in the key informants’ view of groundwater and surface waters’ continued deterioration in the absence of a proper governance structure, a majority of farmers will have restricted access to good quality water to meet daily and agricultural needs, and this will affect the health of the elderly and children in the area. Further, a majority of key informants were of the view that management of surface water and groundwater should be a shared responsibility between the government and the community in the region and appropriate policy initiatives that will improve water literacy at all levels are mandatory to address future water quality challenges.

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We thank all the key informants for taking part in this study. Special thanks to Mr. P. H. Ariyawansa and Miss Sashika Ariyawansa for travelling long distances to interview the key informants and collect data. We would also like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier version of the paper. Also, thanks to Ms. Joycelyn Applebee for her help in the preparation of this manuscript.


This study was financed by funding from Institute of Technology, University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka.

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Correspondence to Basant Maheshwari.

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Responsible editor: Philippe Garrigues

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Thoradeniya, B., Pinto, U. & Maheshwari, B. Perspectives on impacts of water quality on agriculture and community well-being—a key informant study from Sri Lanka. Environ Sci Pollut Res 26, 2047–2061 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11356-017-0493-1

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  • Groundwater
  • Surface water
  • Sri Lanka
  • Water quality
  • Community education
  • Health and well-being