So, How Do We Know If Our Water Is Safe For Drinking?


41% of Nigeria’s population do not have access to good quality drinking water, and while the rich and middle class can afford to buy or dig boreholes, the poor and helpless have to beg for it. Vulnerable children and adults have died from water borne illnesses and poisoning. Issues pertaining to water are most times taken for granted. Government and charged authorities have often become negligent of the need to ensure that its citizens and wards have access to potable water.

In Lagos state, there have been over 80 reported cases of deaths and critically ill persons resulting from water-borne diseases, in the last one year. A recent one is the incident that befell the students of Queens’ College Lagos – reportedly, these girls had been drinking untreated water containing faecal matter and harmful microorganisms, which was provided by the school.

Sachet water, bottled water and other forms of packaged water products are not to be left out in this outcry for safe drinking water. This is because certain water products have poor quality. Some do have objectionable taste and odour thus,  do not meet set standards.

The quality and safety of water is checked at three control levels: Chemical, Microbiological and Physical qualities. Without laboratory checks or proper test kits, we may not be able to determine the chemical and microbiological implications of water as consumers, at home or at our workplace; nevertheless, we could use physical checks to help change the narratives and become well aware of what our drinking water should be like.

So how do we know if our water is safe for drinking?

According to the World Health Organisation, “good quality drinking water is one which is colourless, odourless and tasteless, it’s not objectionable to the consumers and does not represent or pose any significant risk to the health of the consumer over a lifetime of consumption and, it should be suitable for all domestic purposes and personal hygiene”.

It is imperative that we push boundaries and ask questions on the safety of the water that we drink and also utilise for other domestic purposes, whether we’re paying for it or not.

Here are some things we should know:

1.Your boreholes and wells should not be dug or situated close to septic tanks, toilets refuse dumping grounds and farmlands. This proximity is one reason water for drinking and food preparation gets contaminated with faecal matter at the slightest opportunity. Hence, E.coli infection, food infections, chemical poisoning and other water-borne diseases may arise.

2.Beware of drinking water with taste, odour and colour characteristics (whether tap or packaged).Excess mineral constituents or chemical compounds, naturally occurring or from manmade activities can cause odour, taste and colour in water, which could become deleterious to health on the long run. Some water companies only care about their business and profits, they really do not care about you.

3.It is much safer to source water from boreholes rather than wells

4.Bottled water, Sachet water, etc., should bear Best Before dates. Water in itself does not go bad, but once it is packaged, water is capable of reacting with its polyethylene and plastic package to produce odour, changes in taste and toxic compounds when it’s past its expiration date.

5.Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after every toilet visit.

6.Sachet water (or pure water as it is commonly called) especially, should not be stored in the same room with food stuffs or machineries or any object or material that could emit or transfer odours. Gases or odours diffuses easily through the polyethylene package and could cause water to become tasteful and odorous

7.Treat your water before drinking/Drink treated water. Certain tap water from borehole source may not necessarily require treatment if they meet drinking water requirements, however, to ensure the safety of your water and to avoid falling ill needlessly, it is advised to treat. There are a number of water treatment methods that can be used at home.

8.Keep a clean environment; avoid dumping refuse indiscriminately and defecating in open places.

Water is a basic need of life. It is required that we drink good quality water; maintain clean environments and good personal hygiene if we want to stay healthy. Therefore, choosing to become better enlightened in matters that concern water and food safety will be a way forward.


Writer – Obianuju Okonkwo is a Food Scientist with great interest in Food Processing, Quality Control and Public Health. She’s also passionate about educating, which she partly does through writing. When she’s not scouting for knowledge, she’s making a dress or learning a skill on YouTube. Obianuju likes to think of herself as a “lifelong learner”.

You can send her a mail on thefoodscientistuju@gmail.comor follow her on Twitter@ObianujuO

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