A precious drop of life
Published on September 1, 2013
DUBAI Lizards, dead birds, rats, metal, shoes, mould — these are just some of the hazardous items polluting our water tanks. These, along with other organic litter found inside water tanks in the UAE, often spread bacteria and diseases. Stale water stored for a long time also encourage mould and bacteria to grow. High levels of copper, lead, mercury and chlorine from natural contamination cause the water to have a strong taste and odour and further damage our health. According to media reports, tests on bottled water too have shown more bacteria in them than in tap water. Legionnaires’ disease is a potentially fatal lung infection (pneumonia) that is caused by the legionella bacteria and is caught by breathing in small droplets of contaminated water. So how safe is our water? And how much do we know about the quality of the water that we drink? Moreover, how important is it to buy bottled water? The UAE’s tap water is safe to drink, probably more so than bottled water, experts say. Moreover, drinking tap water may also result in 80 per cent savings in cost. However, unclean water tanks render it unsuitable for drinking. Says George Thomas, Vice President of the Environment Protection Services Company, “Tap water in Dubai is safe for drinking purposes if it comes directly from Dewa. The water produced and supplied by Dewa complies with international standards for drinking water.”
Among the seven emirates, Abu Dhabi (including Al Ain), Dubai and Ras Al Khaimah produce very high quality of water from desalination plants. Water quality in other emirates meanwhile varies, with parts of Sharjah, Ajman and Fujairah — where groundwater is used — producing poor quality. The standards set for water quality in the UAE follow the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines for non-bottled drinking water and the International Food Code (CODEX) for bottled water. Everything is in place in the UAE to regulate world-class drinking water, experts say. “However, the journey it takes before reaching the consumers — from the bottling plant or desalination plant — spells the difference on the water’s potability. For tap water, dirty water tanks and ageing and unclean water pipes make water undrinkable,” says Thomas. In the UAE, where majority of residents live in flats, tenants are reliant on landlords to clean the tanks regularly, some of whom are not keen to spend money to clean tanks and disinfect the pipelines, and often assigns this task to the watchman. “Tanks are often not cleaned and properly maintained. As a result, water flowing out from our taps is not always fit for drinking or cooking,” says Thomas, adding, “Cleaning water storage tanks should be left for the professionals.. It is compulsory to clean your water tank every six months in Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Al Ain, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and the municipalities carry out inspections. They also take bacteria and micro-biological tests and we take an extra one for Legionnaire’s Disease. However, UAE residents are not much worried.
“I drink the tap water. I’ve never gotten sick so I don’t see the problem. But, my family doesn’t,” says Dubai resident Ali Hussaini, adding, “This despite most residents prefer buying bottled water.” “We always use bottled water. That’s more of a convention than anything else I think. And nobody’s ever told us that we can drink out of the tap so we never have,” says Durdana Rizvi, a long time Jumeirah resident. “You know we came here so long ago. In those days nobody drank out of taps so we still don’t.” Audrey Renton of Dubai Silicon Oasis admits she actually doesn’t have all the facts.
“I drink bottled water… I have no information about the cleanliness of the water so that’s why I do this. However, I did hear from several sources when I first came that it is perfectly safe to drink from the tap.” “Many buildings have roof top tanks, which are exposed to direct sunlight. As the water in the tank heats up, the chlorine dissipates leaving the water unprotected against mould, bacteria and other contaminants,” says Thomas. These substances could be potentially harmful, causing water-borne disease and illness. Due to stories that have been passed from person to person, many people, especially locals or long-term residents, are wary of using the water at all. “I would never drink the water in Dubai. I would get incredibly sick,” says Mohammad, who has lived in Dubai for over 20 years. So how do you know if your water is safe? And whose responsibility is it to clean it?
“I would advise people to first investigate the condition of the water storage tanks and the distribution system in their buildings. They should ensure that the tanks are cleaned and maintained, protected from foreign contaminants etc,” says Thomas. Often, there is no clause in the contract between landlord and tenant about tank cleaning and there is no way to learn about the cleaning methods and schedule unless you talk to the landlord directly.
“The quality of the pipelines and taps are not monitored at all by anybody, or at least we’re not aware that it’s monitored,” says Durdana. Many tenants organise inspection or get the tanks cleaned by hiring some maintenance company and the landlords cover the costs. The tenant can then ensure that proper maintenance is being done. However, an increasing number of property owners are taking the issue seriously and have initiated a regular cleaning and inspection schedule on their own. Durdana speaks of her experience when she lived in a large complex: “It was much more organised because the landlord had 150 villas and they would just come and do it on a regular basis. They would work through and clean them all.” Thomas explains that there are other protective measures that can be put in place if you are unsure of the building’s maintenance. “It is always advisable to use an end point filtration system to trap any suspended particles, which may come into the line during repair and maintenance work. If these things are done, the water can be used for drinking without any fear,” he says, adding, “The good news is in the last few years, the Dubai Municipality has been very active in monitoring water system hygiene in Dubai. It has designated inspectors who carry out inspections of water tanks in buildings and the follow up for compliance. One of the municipality’s requirements is a ‘Cleaning and Disinfection’ certificate from an approved water tank cleaning company. The inspectors also take water samples from tanks in the buildings and test for water quality. The cleaning contractors as well as the cleaning methods, chemicals, etc, are approved by the municipality.” There have also been reports that the department is planning on grading these companies at a later date.
If you found out that water tanks in your building
are cleaned and maintained on a regular basis, would you be convinced to drink directly from the tap?
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