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27 February 2024

Is UAE tap water safe to drink? We ask experts

By Majorie van Leijen and Sneha May Francis

Newcomers to the UAE often ask old-timers for advice on whether tap water is healthy to drink. 

Surprisingly, opinions are not all the same on this subject. While some residents do not seem to have a problem drinking tap water at all, other would say it is only good for cooking, cleaning – or nothing.

Along with the advice come the warnings: ‘tap water would leave a brownish substance at the bottom of your glass’, or ‘it contains all kinds of harmful elements’, and ‘one should only resort to bottled drinking water’…

Some residents argue that even bottled water can contain harmful elements if you’re not careful with selecting the right brand.

Many residents feel urged to invest in bottles and jugs of drinkable water. The water cooler has become a common object in many households. But is it necessary?

Authorities have time and again stated that there is nothing wrong with tap water in the UAE.

But that does not mean that everybody should drink from the tap; the water tank storing the water can be breeding ground of elements that decrease the quality of tap water.

The Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Authorisation (Esma) defines un-bottled drinking water as water suitable for human consumption supplied to consumers by a water distribution system, public or private, sourced from wells, springs, or any source of surface water that complies with UAE.S GSO 149 (Esma code).

In order for un-bottled drinking water to be up to the UAE standard, companies as well as techniques and material used are regulated and assessed by the concerned authorities.

Esma’s UAE Scheme for Drinking Water clarifies: “To insure safety of un–bottled water in all supply chain concerned authorities reserves the right to inspect and sample all supply points for testing and insure compliance with the relevant standards.”

Water storage tanks too are part of the scheme. The tanks are subjected to UAE standards and assessed. However, maintenance of the water tanks becomes a responsibility not of the supplier, but of the consumer.

“Tap water is completely safe to drink at the time of dispatch. But, the tanks must be cleaned systematically, at least once in six months, to ensure it is unpolluted. Commercial tanks are monitored by us, but not the residential ones,” said Bobby Krishna, Principal Food Studies Officer at Dubai Municipality.

When a tenant rents an apartment, (s)he would probably have little knowledge of the maintenance activities that have been done and have not been done in that particular apartment.

“I use tap water for everything (including cooking) except drinking. The main reason being is that as a tenant in a flat I have no control over the water tank located on the roof of the building,” writes a resident on an online forum where the topic is being discussed.

But property owners too would not immediately think of cleaning the water tank of their residence. As bottled water can be delivered to your doorstep for a reasonable price, this option seems more hassle-free for many residents.

“The water is fine but the water tanks in the villas/apartments are not maintained/cleaned as often as they should be (every 6 months), so it is recommended that you don’t. Buy bottled water instead,” recommends an expat on the forum.

“Don't even give it to the cats to drink,” is the opinion of yet another expat.

Residents with experience of a well-maintained water tank agree that the water is perfectly drinkable, and tasty.

“If the building management carries out regular cleaning work then it is perfectly safe to drink,” says Bobby. “The problem can only come from the tank.”

According to maintenance company Ultra, debris and other contaminants could build up over time within the water storage tank and provide a breeding ground for bacteria such as Legionella. “Other harmful bacteria may also be present and if left unchecked these can create a high risk environment for the entire building,” it states.

“Regular cleaning of the water tank would include a clean-up every 6 months.”

But according to Bobby the health hazards are not prominent. “We have never seen contaminated water,” he said. “But, in rare cases where the tank is not cleaned you will see sporadic cases of water-borne diseases.

Even then, it will not be contaminated, just plain dirt.”

“There’s no scope for sewage to come in the first place, because it is unrelated,” he assures.

(Home page image courtesy Shutterstock)