Easy access to a safe water supply is not always possible in some communities. However there are some practical ways to improve the quality of household stored water and hence reduce risks of diarrhoeal disease

What You Need to Know

Even if water looks clean, it might not be safe to use. Untreated water can contain millions of germs, including those that cause gastrointestinal infections such as cryptosporidiosis, cholera, typhoid, dysentery and hepatitis A. It can also contain germs that cause skin and eye infections. Many of these germs are excreted in animal and human faeces and they can get into the water if the supply is not protected from contamination. Many homes around the world do not have a piped water supply and even in homes that do have piped water, problems with water safety can arise from time to time (e.g. when sewage enters a fractured pipe). Drinking this unsafe water or using it to prepare food (e.g. for washing fruit or vegetables that you will eat raw) can lead to illness.

Using unsafe water can put everyone, but particularly the very young, the elderly and the sick at risk. Once someone becomes infected, many of these water-borne diseases can spread from person to person through direct or indirect contact with their faeces, for example, when someone forgets to wash their hands before preparing a meal for you.

Making Water Safe

If you do not have access to a piped supply of safe water, you will need to treat your water before you use it for drinking or food preparation to ensure that it is safe. If the water is very dirty, it may also be necessary to pre-treat it by filtering it or decanting it to remove any visible debris. The water then needs to be purified, for example by:

  • bringing it to a rolling boil
  • exposing it to ultraviolet radiation
  • adding a suitable disinfectant, such as chlorine.

Boiling your water or exposing it to ultraviolet radiation are effective ways of destroying the germs in water. However, these methods can be impractical and do not provide any long-lasting protection. There is a high risk of re-contaminating the water with germs. For example, when you transfer the water to a contaminated container, or dip an unwashed ladle or your hands in the water.

Chlorination is usually the disinfection method of choice because it is efficient and easy. Provided you add the right amount of chlorine for the right amount of time, chlorine can effectively reduce the risk of water-borne infections. At doses of just a few milligrams per litre of water, chlorine can destroy more than 99.9% of water-borne germs. And, since some residual chlorine persists in the treated water, chlorination also helps to keep the treated water safe during storage and use.

HOW to clean water containers and prevent contamination

  • Clean water is no good if stored in a dirty container. These should be cleaned and disinfected regularly with detergent followed by an appropriate disinfectant
  • Water should be regularly replaced by fresh water from municipal tap. If the quality of the water supply is poor, or if pond or well water is used, it should be disinfected with appropriate dose of bleaching powder with 33% available chlorine
  • Water can become contaminated by insects, animals, dirt, or debris that carry disease-causing organisms. Therefore water vessels should be covered at all times or a screw can or spigot used to seal a bottle
  • Containers with clean water should not be topped up, but once empty the vessel should be cleaned and disinfected prior to refilling. The time that water is stored should be minimised
  • Avoid putting hands (dipping) and dirty utensils into a water container. This could contaminate the water
  • If water treatments (eg, chlorinating tablets) are used; separate containers should be used for contaminated water and the treated water
  • Cracked or broken water containers should be discarded

Water Purification Tablets

Water purification tablets provide a simple and effective method of chlorinating your water and making it safe for drinking and food preparation. You just need to add the correct number of tablets to your water and leave them to work for the recommended amount of time. The chlorine will keep your water free from germs and help protect you and your family from water-borne disease.

Benefits of Water Purification Tablets

  • Destroy a wide range of water-borne germs, including those that cause cholera, dysentery, and typhoid.
  • Help prevent re-contamination of your water during storage and use.
  • Easy to use.
  • Safer to store, handle and carry than liquid or granular chlorine.
  • Economical.

Most water purification tablets effectively disinfect water without changing the colour of your water, leaving any objectionable taste or removing any of your water’s natural minerals. By providing residual activity that protects your water from re-contamination, they also helps keep water clean for longer.

Storing Water Safely

Household water treatment and safe storage interventions can lead to dramatic improvements in your drinking water quality and reductions in diarrhoeal disease. It is preferable to store treated water in plastic, ceramic, or metal containers with the following characteristics, to reduce recontamination:

  • A small opening with a lid or cover.
  • A spigot (tap or pouring spout) or small opening to allow easy and safe access to the water without needing to dip your hands, cups, ladles and other objects into the container.
  • A size of container that is appropriate for the household water treatment method, with permanently attached instructions for using the treatment method and for cleaning the container.

In addition:

  • minimise the time that water is stored before you use it
  • empty and clean water containers regularly.

Water Hygiene Tips


  • Choose a water source that is protected from contamination.
  • Use only clean, safe water for drinking and food preparation.
  • Choose an effective method to disinfect your water, such as water purification tablets.
  • Regularly wash your hands with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and before preparing food.
  • Teach your children about water-borne diseases and how to avoid them.


  • Drink water from unsafe sources, such as ponds and rivers.
  • Swim in polluted water or swallow pool water.

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