Drinking Water Safely Around the World
Water is the essence of life. It makes up more than half of our bodies and without it, we simply cannot function or even survive. But it’s also something that we, in the Western world, tend to take for granted.
Access to clean and safe drinking water is expected in most first-world countries such as the UK, the US and Canada. However, as the world becomes a much smaller place, with increasing numbers of people travelling further afield than ever before, the importance of understanding drinking water safety across the globe becomes so much more important.
The quality of water varies dramatically from one region to another, and unsafe drinking water is one of the leading causes of illness among travellers. But that shouldn’t hold you back from exploring the world and expanding your mind. To that end, we’ve put together an overview of water quality data from different regions.
North America (USA and Canada)
Generally, water in the USA and Canada is treated and safe to drink from the tap, particularly in major cities such as New York, which boasts some of the cleanest water in the country. Note, however, that just because it’s clean doesn’t necessarily mean it’s filtered. There have also been instances like the Flint water crisis, where tap water became contaminated, but they are thankfully rare exceptions. It’s also worth noting that some more remote rural areas might rely on well water, which could contain bacteria or minerals like iron and sulphur and are best avoided.
Western European nations have incredibly stringent water quality standards. Indeed, tap water in countries like France, Germany, and Scandinavia is of the highest quality imaginable and is always safe to drink. Eastern Europe has improved its water infrastructure since the 1990s, but it’s always wise to check with local sources before drinking tap water.
Varies dramatically. In more developed countries like Japan and South Korea, tap water is safe to drink. In many parts of India, China, and Southeast Asia, however, tap water is not recommended for drinking due to the presence of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Bottled water is widely available but varies in quality so always ensure that the seal is intact and secure before purchasing.
Drinking tap water in most parts of Africa is not advised due to high contamination risks. Some cities and tourist areas might have treated water, but it’s best to err on the side of caution and avoid drinking straight from the tap, wherever possible. Safe drinking water is a major problem throughout the continent, with over 400 million people still lacking even basic access to clean water.
The Middle East
Due to the arid climate, many countries in The Middle East rely heavily on desalination plants. In places like the UAE or Israel, however, tap water is treated and safe, as these are more developed and westernised countries. However, in more unsettled regions, relying on bottled water is advised.
Of course, even in areas where tap water is deemed safe, travellers might be susceptible to ‘Delhi Belly‘ simply because their gut is not accustomed to the local microbial flora. How susceptible you are will depend on several factors but if you have been known to react badly to “foreign water” in the past, you’re best sticking to bottled water or investing in a good portable water filter.
Portable Water Filter: A Traveller’s Best Friend
Having access to clean drinking water is not just about comfort but a matter of basic health. Here’s why a decent portable water filter is a beneficial tool for any traveller who wants to explore beyond the tried and tested vacation destinations.
Safety: Portable water filters remove harmful pathogens like bacteria, protozoa, and, in some cases, viruses. This significantly reduces the risk of waterborne diseases.
Economy: Investing in a good portable water filter can save money in the long run. Instead of constantly buying bottled water, travellers can refill from various sources and ensure they’re drinking clean water.
Eco-friendly: By reducing the consumption of single-use plastic bottles, travellers contribute to a cleaner environment. Plastic waste is a significant issue in many tourist destinations.
Versatility: Whether you’re trekking in the Himalayas or attending a conference in Bangkok, portable water filters come in various designs to suit different needs. There are straw-like filters for hikers and larger, more sophisticated ones for families or groups.
Adaptability: Many modern portable water filters can adapt to multiple situations. They can be attached to taps, used with natural water sources, or even connected to wide-mouthed bottles.
Taste: Some filters come with activated carbon which removes not only pathogens but also unpleasant tastes and odours from the water.
As the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do“, but when it comes to drinking water, it’s better to be cautious. A good understanding of regional water quality and a portable water filter can make a world of difference and help you enjoy your adventures without succumbing to preventable illness. Safe travels and stay hydrated!