Water, health and kidney disease in Sri Lanka: perspectives from anthropology and chemistry  

Year of award: 2017


  • Upul Wickramasinghe

    Durham University

Project summary

We will look at policy research on health and environmental crises produced by water pollution in the developing world. As a case study, we will explore the epidemic of chronic kidney disease of unknown aetiology (CKDu) in Sri Lanka. It will focus on how scientific, medical and policy narratives of the disease have come to centre on water, accompanied with a study of ethno-chemical understanding versus chemical quality of water. 

We will combine theories and methods from the anthropology of science, environment, and health and water chemistry to explore the cultural and historical conditions of water in relation to a CKDu epidemic. We will map the emergence of a lexicon around water and compare criteria used by scientists and ordinary villagers to judge water quality. We will also develop maps of water quality as identified through scientific and ethno-chemical knowledge.

The research will improve understanding of people’s lives in a CKDu-affected village. This will contribute towards science, advocacy and policy debates regarding CKDu and water pollution.