On Economics
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On Economics

Drinking Water in Sri Lanka

And the Reliance on Bowsers

Recently, a friend and I were discussing a charitable project to improve the quality of drinking water, in a remote part of Nothern Sri Lanka. The project involved building tube-wells. Without which people need to walk for miles, or rely on bowsers to collect water. The benefit of such projects is immense. They improve, not only the health, but entire economies.

However, one problem these projects face is “discovery”. Namely, discovering who needs help.

I wondered if this “discovery problem” could be solved with data. Immediately, I thought of the 2012 Sri Lankan Census which asked a question on the Source of Drinking Water of Households. One question asked if the household’s principle source of drinking water was bowsers. I wondered if “We depend on bowsers” would be a good proxy for “We need a better drinking water solution”. And hence, if these households might be a good starting point for drinking water projects, including charitable ones.

Hence, in this article, I do a drill-down of households in various parts of the country depend on bowsers for drinking water.

Data and Analysis

The Trincomalee district has the highest number of households using bowswers (4,425), followed by Puttallam(3,961) and Jaffna (3,142). As a proportion of households, bowsers are most prevalent in Mannar (11.6%), followed by Trincomalee (4.6%) and Kilinochchi (2.9%).

Next, let’s look at Trincomalee, Puttallam and Jaffna in more detail.


Most bowser use in Trincomalee is concentrated in the Kantale DSD (21.5% of Households) and the Mutur DSD.

Within Kanthale bowser usage is concentrated in the Jayanthipura, Wanela West, Wanela East and Pansalgodella GNDs.

In Mutur, bowser usage is clustered around Muttur West, Jayanagar, and Periyapalam.


Most bowser use in Puttalam is concentrated in the Mundel DSD (14.2% of Households).

Within Mundel bowser usage is concentrated in the Andimunai, Udappuwa, Udappuwa and Pulichchakulama GNDs.


Most bowser use in Jaffna is concentrated in the Karainagar DSD (39.8% of Households) and Island South (Velanai) DSD.

Within Velanai bowser usage is concentrated on the Punkudutivu island.

Bowser usage seems to be evenly spread across Karainagar Island.


In summary, let’s look at the GNDs with the largest number of households that depend on bowsers. We missed some in the above analysis, because we did a top-down drill-down. Eluthur and Thalvupadu, which are in Mannar. Haragama is in Kandy District.

Also, there might be no “one-size fits all” solution that would work for all these GNDs. Some might need pipes, others wells. For still others bowsers might be the best solution.

Nevertheless, this list might be a good starting point. Further research should provide the details.

More Details can be found in https://observablehq.com/@nuuuwan/drinking-water-in-sri-lanka




Articles on Economics by Nuwan I. Senaratna

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Nuwan I. Senaratna

Nuwan I. Senaratna

I am a Computer Scientist and Musician by training. A writer with interests in Philosophy, Economics, Technology, Politics, Business, the Arts and Fiction.

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