Water is, perhaps, the single most vital element for the maintenance of life on planet earth. Clean, uncontaminated water is, therefore, a priceless commodity, and the primary focus of the United Nation’s annual World Water Day, which has been observed every March 22, since 1993.
According to un.org: “Every year since 1993, World Water Day raises awareness and inspires action to tackle the water and sanitation crisis. It is about taking action to tackle the global water crisis of the 2.2 billion people living without access to safe water. It is a United Nations observance coordinated by UN-Water. The theme is proposed in advance by UN-Water. It is aligned with the annual publication of the UN World Water Development Report, published by UNESCO on behalf of UN Water.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported that a heart breaking 1.4 million people die every year from diseases related to poor water, sanitation, and hygiene, while another 74 million lives will be shortened due to unclean water and living conditions. WHO goes on to disclose that today, 1 in 4 people – 2 billion people worldwide – lack safe drinking water. (un.org, 2023)
In Bermuda, we generally take it for granted that our water is clean, uncontaminated, and fully consumable. We don’t really think about water crises, or the countless risks associated with ingesting dirty water. Our culture has evolved to the point where clean water comes easy – those white roofs can be seen from a hundred miles away, and they play a massive role in our water treatment plan.
It’s no secret that our roofs are designed to catch as much rain water as possible, but that’s not the only function of those majestic white peaks. BBC correspondent Harry Low breaks it down:
“The design of the roof has multiple benefits. Made of limestone, it is heavy and not easily shifted by hurricanes and in the past, it was covered in a lime mortar, which had anti-bacterial properties. Now the mortar has been replaced by paint. It’s still white, because this reflects ultra-violet light from the sun, which also helps to purify the water.” (bbc.com, 2016)
So, clean, safe drinking water has always been a culturally relevant part of life in Bermuda. Developed over many centuries because of a lack of easily available fresh water, our water purifying roofs have become a staple for us. It’s an ingenious system, borne of necessity, and providing clean, healthy drinking water for generations of Bermudians. Harry Low expounds:
“This system was forced on the early settlers, because of the lack of easily available fresh water – there are no permanent streams and the lakes are brackish. Later it became enforced in house-building regulations – for each square foot of roof space, all houses must have eight gallons of tank space.” (bbc.com, 2016)
As we are often reminded, we are truly blessed in Bermuda. Clean, healthy water is just another blessing on the considerable list of privileges we enjoy. Of course, many of us still don’t fully trust our time-tested tank water, which has allowed a modern, state-of-the-art bottled water industry to thrive.
Doctor Jonathan Makanjuola, MBBS, AKC, FRCS (Urol) is a consultant urologist for the Bermuda Hospitals Board (BHB), and an expert of all things water, and water consumption. Dr Makanjuola describes Bermuda’s bottled water as “up to world standards.” Disclosing that he has “worked in plants and facilities in Bermuda, England, and Canada. Bermuda is on par. Similar equipment, parameters, and standards.”
On whether our tap water is safer to drink than bottled water, Dr Makanjuola proclaims:
“This will be a case-by-case basis. Depending on the water source, upkeep and monitoring of the water, i.e., the water profile of a house by the ocean will be different than that of a house with lots of vegetation. I’d suggest testing your water, and go from there; it costs about $30 from the health department by SAL Devonshire.”
There are many risks involved in consuming water, whether it be clean or contaminated; so, we not only have to ensure that our water stays clean, we also have to strike a balance between drinking enough water, and drinking too much.
So, if you’re unsure, go ahead and indulge in our very own, locally sourced, world class bottled water. But be wary of indulging too much! Yes, that is a thing; too much water can become a problem over time, even if it is super-clean, uncontaminated water. Dr Makanjuola goes on to outline the pitfalls of consuming too much water:
“Yes! You can consume too much water. There’s a condition called hyponatremia – that’s a condition where you drink so much water that your body salts become dilated, and your sodium drops; and low sodium can cause muscle weakness, confusion, and fatigue. That’s associated with excessive water consumption – not to mention if you have problems with your heart or kidneys it can cause fluid retention, where you get fluid build-up in the legs, and your heart cannot deal with the extra load.”
“The risks associated with drinking too much water, as I said, is hyponatremia, where you’ve got a very low blood salt level because of dilution, and it can cause muscle weakness, confusion, and even death in some instances when the water intake is too excessive; but that’s very rare.
“The main risk of not drinking enough water is dehydration, especially in warm climates where people can get confused, dizzy – it can also cause cardiac heart issues, and cardiac arrest if dehydrated for a significant period of time.
Dr Makanjuola advises on exactly how much water we should be drinking each day:
“There’s a lot of newspapers and magazines that talk about how much water to drink. The reality is that we only need to consume one-to-two litres of water a day. There’s also plenty of water in our diets, and food – which we often forget. Drinking between one and two litres is enough for our kidney function, hydration, and bowel and gut function.”
How can we know if we are drinking the right amount of water? Dr Makanjuola offers a little life hack, and some great advice for general fluid consumption:
“I always say to my patients, ‘look at your urine colour, and it will tell you how much you should be drinking.’ If your urine colour is very dark and yellow, that’s your body’s way of saying that you’re holding on to water, because you haven’t got enough, and you should be drinking a lot more. If the urine colour is very pale, almost white like water, or very straw- coloured, then that tells me that you’ve got a good fluid balance, and your kidneys are excreting a good amount of water, and you’re probably doing the right things.”
“In terms of fluid consumption, it’s important to drink plenty to prevent things like kidney stones, which is what I see a lot of patients in Bermuda have. Also, the right types of fluid. There’s been lots of studies about whether bottled versus spring versus natural water is best – it all depends on your local area. Bermuda does tend to have pretty good, clean water with the filtered system. So, drink plenty of fluid, reduce your alcohol because it can dehydrate you as it’s wrong kind of fluid, and good fluid consumption will help with skin as well.”