Start main page content

Make sure the water from your tap is safe to drink

- Wits University

With an increasing risk of water-borne diseases such as cholera spreading in cities, it is important to learn how to keep your family safe.

With increasing water interruptions in a number of municipalities in South Africa, the risk of being infected of water-borne diseases is increasing.  

While the water in our pipes is safe to drink. There are situations where diseases can creep into the system, making it temporarily unsafe for drinking purposes, says Professor Craig Sheridan, director of Wits: H2O in the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies at Wits University.

“While diseases such cholera is known in rural areas, we expect it to become more prevalent in cities, where ageing infrastructure becomes a challenge,” says Sheridan. An example of a cholera outbreak in Hammanskraal in 2023 serves as a wake-up call for people living in cities, because this outbreak occurred in a built-up area, with city infrastructure.

Sheridan explains that when water runs through pipes normally, with a positive pressure, it keeps polluted water from entering the pipes through leaks in the pipe. However, when the pipes are empty during water shut-downs, nothing prevents polluted water from entering the system, which can make it temporarily unsafe.

“I would either run the tap for a while, or boil the first couple of litres of water before drinking it, or rely on bottled water for a while before drinking tap water again,” says Sheridan.

Realising that, unlike in rural areas, city-dwellers are actually quite uninformed about how to safely treat water, as they have been relying on the provision of clean safe water from municipalities for decades, Sheridan and the Wits: H2O team has decided to create a number of videos on how to safely treat water to prevent diseases such as cholera from spreading.

Translated in 12 different languages, the videos provide tips such as boiling water before you drink it, covering water that stands in the open, treating water with a bit of bleach to make sure it is safe, and keeping your surroundings and your home disinfected.

“While cholera is a highly contagious disease, it is completely preventable and by learning how to keep our water safe, we all have the ability and the responsibility to prevent water-borne diseases such as this from spreading,” says Sheridan.