It’s summer and the heat is unbearable, which is why everyone wants to stay indoors, with a refreshing drink and the air conditioning full on.
Though Taiwan has a semi-tropical climate and plenty of water, other regions are not so lucky and the availability of water can mean the difference between life and death.
But what if the water we drink is the actual threat?
Potable (safe to drink) water is actually a privilege enjoyed only by countries in Europe, North America, and some parts of the Asia-Pacific region.
In other countries the available water supply is untreated and unsafe. In many cases rapid development means the water supply cannot keep pace with demand.
Taiwanese are taught from a young age that tap water is unreliable to drink. The chlorine added to the water to sterilize it has a pungent smell, while some people believe the added chemicals are cancer causing.
In 2015, water safety issues were spotlighted in Taipei after a city councilor disclosed that more than 30,000 households had used lead-contaminated water for decades. The buried waterpipes from more than 60 years ago were the main cause, even though all of them were replaced in 2017.
In fact, Taiwan’s tap water is drinkable when it is freshly released from treatment plants. However, Taiwan Water Corporation (TWC) says there may be contamination after delivery to the home, which is caused by leaking pipes.
“A huge number of leaking pipes in Taiwan result from the frequent earthquakes, underground construction, and too much traffic,” said TWC President Hu Nan-tzer (胡南澤).
“On average, the amount of leaking water is up to 6 million cubic meters per year, three times the capacity of Shimen reservoir, the third largest reservoir in Taiwan.”
In addition, water tanks can be hotbeds for bacteria. This is because many households use water tanks to store water in, say, mountainous areas, where natural water resources are relatively scarce.
Hu pointed out that no matter how clean the water is to begin with, when water is left in tanks for a long time it is a breeding ground for germs such as E. coli (Escherichia coli), which causes diarrhea and nausea.
Even so, TWC insists twice yearly cleaning of the water tank and sterilization is enough to sustain water purity and ensure its drinkability. That said, there are a number of misconceptions that people have about drinking water from the tap.
For example, many people boil tap water to sterilize and eliminate the chlorine. However, the added chlorine sanitizes the water and is highly regulated and causes no harm.
“The remaining amount (0.4~0.5 mg/L) in tap water reaching our houses is much lower than the drinking water standard (5 mg/L) set by the World Health Organization (WHO),” Hu stated.
Rather than drink bottled water in polluting plastic bottles, it’s important to have potable water, even if we do buy expensive filters to ensure its quality.
It’s vital to make the most of precious water resources and this means ensuring it is not wasted by having leaky pipes, and is delivered safely to the house.
A report from WHO revealed that in 2017, more than 2 billion people drank water contaminated with feces. Also, about 144 million people collected untreated surface water from lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams, according to the World Health Organization.
By 2025, half the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas, which means that demand for clean water will continue to grow. Better facilities for water storage and treatment are critical to tackle this challenge.
The point is, no matter what country we live in, people should never take clean water for granted. It’s important to have potable tap water, not only for ourselves, but because many others around the world are deprived of it.
This article was previously published on Taiwan News.