By Carol Kasujja
Water is life. The human body is mostly made of water. While a human being can go without food for more than 40 days, a person can barely survive three to four days without water.
It is, therefore, critical that a person drinks enough water daily. It is an excellent way to keep the body in tip-top shape. But how safe is the water you are drinking?
Almost a quarter of people who drink bottled water say they do so because they believe it is safer than any other water, But what these people may not realise is that some people have taken advantage of the market growth to produce water of questionable standards.
“Before you buy that appealing bottle of cold water, find out whether the bottle was not just picked from the rubbish pit,” says David Eboku, the UNBS standard manager.
Eboku says on many occasions when people buy bottled water, they do not look at the labelling to see the manufacture and find out whether the water is approved for sale. To stay healthy, people need to start checking the label to avoid diseases like cholera and typhoid.
“People are at risk of respiratory, kidney and digestive health diseases due to consumption of non-treated water being supplied by unauthorised companies,” he says.
Eboku says during testing, they have found some bottled water with traces of human and animal feacal matter, chemicals, stones and mercury. He says before you grab that bottle, check the appearance of the water. If it is green, cloudy, misty and smelly do not buy it. Whereas it might not kill you, it might be dangerous in future.
If the bottle cap is hard to open and has any part that leaks, leave it because a cap is supposed to be intact, easy to open and properly sealed around the bottle.
“Every bottled mineral water must have a visible expiry, manufacturing date and contacts indicated on the bottle. Water that is made in Uganda must have a quality mark by UNBS in bold letters. The UNBS mark has a Q and S mark,” he says.
He says if the water is labelled as natural water, it should have minimal chemicals and just packaged water should have additional requirements.
If people cannot boil their water for drinking and decide to buy it from public places, they should not be in a hurry to buy water from hawkers. Water should be bought from regular suppliers like shops and supermarkets.
Genuine water bottles must have the name of the producer and expiry dates in case a consumer wants to visit the premises in the unlikely event one feels the water is not good.
All certified water must have ingredients like calcium, iron, magnesium, copper, sodium, potassium, Zinc, Fluoride, Iron and Chloride.
Take time and check if all the ingredients are all there. Usually hawkers pick used bottles from water channels and dirty places, package unclean water and sell it in the taxi park to get quick money.
“Before you drink you have to check the stickers. Some duplicate registered water brand names and try to change the middle letters. The packaging is the same as the certified water but when you check the label it reads something else.”
He gives an example of Rwenzori which people like duplicating and call it Rwenzuri.
The amount of water packaged must be declared on the bottle to avoid cheating.
For those who prefer drinking water packed inside polythene bags, be aware as well that you may probably be endangering your life by taking this water.
“The use of any statement or of any pictorial device, which may create confusion in the mind of the public or in any way mislead the public about the nature, origin, composition and properties of packaged drinking water other than natural mineral waters, is prohibited,” he says.
Vincent Ochwo, the UNBS head of surveillance, says if inspectors survey your company premises and find out that you do not meet the required standards, they advise you on how to meet them. If after several warnings you refuse to change, they close your premises or even prosecute you.
“All packaged water for human consumption shall be certified by UNBS. New companies must seek preapproval of product before placing the water onto the market,” says Ochwo.
Any person who wants to open a water company must ensure that the company is not located in a swampy place and not near the roadside because dust may get into the water during packaging.
All persons entering the processing areas including visitors and sub-contractors are required to wear clean protective clothing to prevent the micro-organisms that live in human hair, throat, bowel and sores being transferred to the hands which pack the water.
It is necessary that all employees, permanent or temporary, are medically examined and certified as fit to work in any water company.
“No applicant for work at a water manufacturing plant shall be engaged in such work until he/she has been medically examined. Before doing any work, you must produce a medical certificate and shall be in compliance with food hygiene regulations in force,” Ochwo noted.
He adds that the examination shall include X-ray of the chest for tuberculosis, stool for protozoal and helminthic infestation for those parasites that are transmitted by ingestion.
Staff members, who have diarrhoea, vomiting and any respiratory tract infections shall not be permitted to work in areas where they may come in contact with the water.
Staff shall be given appropriate induction and ongoing training in hygiene and training records should be kept.
Barbara Kamusiime, the UNBS spokesperson, notes that the absence of a Bottled Water Policy, has allowed unscrupulous individuals to penetrate the market with substandard water.