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May 21, 2024

Student view: Exploring water insecurity

Priyanka Jayakodi is a Cultural Anthropology Ph.D. student in the Department of Anthropology, College of Social Sciences specializing in Medical and Environmental Anthropology. She is also pursuing a specialization in Gender, Justice and Environmental Change through MSU GenCen. Jayakodi is the recipient of the 2024-25 Rose Graduate Fellowship in Water Research, awarded through the MSU Water Alliance and the Graduate School. This fellowship is made possible through the generous funding provided by Joan and Tom Rose to support graduate students dedicated to researching water issues. 

In my Ph.D. dissertation, I explore water insecurity in communities where Chronic Kidney Disease of uncertain etiology, or CKDu, is prevalent in Sri Lanka. While there are competing discourses on the etiology of CKDu, it is mainly framed as an illness caused by drinking water contaminated by agrochemicals and dehydration due to intense heat in these areas. As a preventive measure, the Sri Lankan government and health professionals discourage people from drinking untreated groundwater that is freely available in wells and lakes. Therefore, these communities must now supply their drinking water through water vendors or community-based reverse osmosis water treatment plants (if available.) In this context, I examine how people’s relationship with water has been shaped by the health crisis they have been experiencing for several decades and how they navigate their daily challenges of water insecurity. 

Given the current trend of the fast expansion of industrial agriculture and the rapid invasion of multinational corporations in “developing” countries, occupational and environmental health hazards have increased, and historically marginalized communities have been further deprived of their rightful access to water and land. Therefore, my research will contribute to the broader discourses within anthropology of water and environmental health. I plan to incorporate applied, community-based elements into my project, which has the potential to bring some immediate benefits to the community that I am working with. 

Prior to joining the Ph.D. program at MSU, I worked as an adjunct instructor at the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at Montclair State University and the Open University of Sri Lanka. During my time at MSU, my pre-dissertation fieldwork has been supported by the Dr. Delia Koo Fellowship from the Asian Studies Center, the Rose Graduate Fellowship in Water Research, and the Dissertation Planning Grant from the American Institute for Sri Lankan Studies. 

As a first-generation student and a woman from a rural farming family in Sri Lanka, my research on water insecurity is very close to my heart. My experience at MSU has been extremely enriching and I greatly appreciate the unwavering support I receive from my advisor Dr. Heather Howard, my department chair, Dr. Todd Fenton and all of my committee members, Dr. Lucero Radonic, Dr. Adan Quan, Dr. Beth Drexler and Dr. Megan Dean. I am extremely grateful for all of the opportunities that I have gotten so far as a Spartan, and I look forward to many more that are yet to come. 


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