Travel and Health: Countries With Dirty Drinking Water
Ever travel overseas and order a drink with ice, or brush your teeth with the tap water and have that moment of pause where you say to yourself, did I just do that? Did I just ingest the water before checking whether it was safe to do so or not? A day later you’re kicking yourself because of that bad stomach ache or case of diarrhea, and realized that you consumed dirty drinking water. Hopefully, this hasn’t happened to you but if it has, you can probably share your own cautionary tale. One piece of research you should always conduct before you travel to another country is check if they have safe water of if they’re a country whose water you should avoid.
The choice is obvious here but it’s not always so blatant.
A reader’s question on a recent post I wrote on USAID’s global efforts for clean, safe water inspired this post. She asked:
What do we do in regards to drinking water in certain countries? For example, when I was 21 I went to Mexico and drank bottled water while there but I totally forgot about ice and of course the drinks or punches they make you on the short cruises. So I got sick. Can we only drink beer or cokes from a can when we travel to certain countries?! Are there any countries you strongly recommend avoiding the water when we travel there?
Countries with Poor Water Supply
In general, just about any developing country falls into the category of countries to avoid. You can find over thirty countries listed below or check out more detailed information on each country on Travel.State.Gov where you can also find a run down of other important travel issues. Many countries of Africa fall on this list, as well as popular American destinations such as Mexico, Dominican Republic, Guyana, and Venezuela. I think the list looks a little thin, and would add that you should be careful on small Asian island countries and even remote parts of developed countries like Spain. Some countries like Japan don’t put fluoride in their water the way we do in the states, but this doesn’t make the water undrinkable. It may just taste different.
Here is a short list of countries:
|| Russian Federation
|| Cape Verde
|| Burma (Myanmar)
I’m pretty conservative when I travel. I don’t mind paying the extra few bucks to buy myself a bottled water every time I’m sitting down for a meal, and especially when I’m walking out and about. Although Jamaica isn’t on this list, when I traveled there last, I opted for bottled water, although I don’t think I remembered to decline the ice in my drinks. Luckily, I didn’t get sick.
To keep your health (and your children’s health) safe, you should only drink sealed bottled water in any of the aforementioned destinations. This also means, brushing your teeth with bottled water, washing your fruit with bottled water, avoiding ice in beverages, as well as any type of reconstituted drinks, like punches. This is the one time where canned soda and beer are your best friends.
Purifying Your Water
If buying sealed bottled water isn’t an option, you can always purify your water. (Note: If the bottle isn’t sealed, it could’ve just been refilled with tap water). There are methods you should follow, as outlined by the CDC, to purify your water, but essentially, you will have to either boil the water, vigorously for 1 minute and allowed to cool. Remember, Do Not Add Ice! At higher altitudes, you have to boil the water three times as long.
OPTION 2: The other option you have to clean the water and disinfect it is to use iodine tablets. They can be easily found in most stateside sporting goods stores and pharmacies. Be sure to purchase them BEFORE you reach your destination. However, you have to keep in mind that some parasites may not be killed by this method alone. Using iodine tablets, tincture of iodine, and crystalline iodine is an involved process, so you have to be careful to read the instructions carefully.
OPTION 3: Your third option is to carry a portable water filter. The water filter bottles that you purchase in your supermarket are not going to do the trick. You will need to get specially designed filters and even some of those don’t effectively remove some viruses, parasites, and diarrhea-causing bacterias. Be sure to read the CDC’s guide to water filters to ensure you have the right filter. Even after filtration, you may need to boil and add iodine to the water to completely purify it for safe drinking.
Unfortunately, some 800 million people worldwide do not have access to clean, safe water. If only they had these options like us. In addition to USAID, other organizations, like Blood:Water, are also joining in the clean, safe water fight. Know some countries that should be added to the list? Leave them in the comments below and I will continuously update.
Have you had a bad water incident? Where were you traveling and what did you do to overcome it?