The Agua in Nagua

Matt and Ben were sitting around the dinner table tonight having a very adult conversation about water here versus water in England. They made some very incisive and thought-provoking observations which are definitely worth summarising.

We can’t drink the water that comes from the tap here – it’s not potable, but it really is no hardship at all and you quickly get used to it.  Drinking water is delivered in 5-gallon plastic bottles – the sort that is put upside-down into water coolers in every office across the UK.  Empty bottles can be exchanged for full ones in one of a hundred places in every street, or alternatively there is a tanker which tours the streets and will refill the bottles you already have.

We don’t expect anything else that we drink to come out of a tap so what is so special about water?  Everything else that we drink we either have delivered or go the shop to buy.   In the UK, we are very happy to pay for bottled water in bars and cafes and often keep a bottle of Evian or Tesco’s sparkling table water in the fridge. So around our dinner table tonight we got talking about why, in England, we think it is important to have drinking water on tap.

We don’t think it’s a cost thing.  Drinking water here is very cheap to buy; 5 gallons delivered to your door costs about 60p and between the 6 of us we drink about 10-12 gallons a week – s0 a grand total of about £1.50 a week.

We don’t think it’s a taste thing.  The bottled water is perfectly nice to drink.  We decant it into smaller bottles and keep it in the fridge – so cold drinking water is always available.

We don’t think it’s a quality thing either.  The mains water that is connected to the house is perfectly OK for all other household purposes (washing clothes, bathing, flushing the loo, cooking, brushing teeth and even for making hot drinks if you let it boil for a couple of minutes).

The main reasons we can think of to explain why we don’t have drinking water on tap here is because a) it would be fa too expensive to install/upgrade the infrastructure; and b) it’s regarded as a wholly unnecessary and wasteful luxury – why on earth would you pay to shower in water of a quality that you could drink?

Yet potable tap water is what we have become used to in the UK.  It’s not a luxury, or even a ‘nice to have’.  It’s just something we don’t even think about.  If freshly squeezed orange juice or lemonade came down the pipes every time we flushed the loo, watered the garden or put the washing machine on we would think it an extraordinary waste – and yet we watch gallons and gallons of it disappear down the drain every day without giving it a second thought.

We’ll never see the day when the clocks will be rolled back to pre-Victorian times when we didn’t have drinking water in our homes.  (A quick bit of Googling indicates that the first piped-to-home drinking water was available in the early 19th century).  It’s part of our ‘advanced’ western culture that water is drinkable from the taps, and the infrastructure is all in place (albeit creaking badly – at least in southern England).  However, as the world turns its attention ever increasingly to saving money and saving the planet, it’s got to be a an idea worth thinking about.

So, a question.  How much would you be you willing to pay for the convenience of drinking water on tap?  Or to put it another way, by how much would your annual water bill have to be reduced before you would allow the quality of water piped into your home to fall below a standard acceptable for drinking?  £50 per year? £100? £1000?

According to Wikipedia, 0nly forty-six percent of people in Africa have safe drinking water (   Just imagine if the money and resources saved could be somehow transferred to the barren plains of Africa where children die every day of dehydration, would you give it up then?

Having lived here for almost 5 months we don’t even give a second thought to not drinking the tap water so if it were an option in England that saved us a few pounds and potentially conserved the planet a little for our grand-kids we would sign up immediately. Would you? Give it some thought next time you flush 40 glasses of drinking water away when you go to the loo or watch about 300 glasses go down the drain when you empty the bath.

Please credit Matthew and Ben with these thought provoking ideas.  And if we’re missing the point (be it economic, political, social or technological) as to why it’s necessary to have potable mains water, we’d love to hear why – please write us a comment.


  1. Ted & Liz says:

    Well, that does make one think……
    Unfortunately, or fortunately we are so used to the water supplies in the UK I don’t envisage anyone would like to lose their normal supply.
    Having visited third world countries as you are doing it did take time to get used to your experience but very pleased to return to normality.
    Think of all the waste plastic bottles and disposal of them, more problem to the envionment possibly.
    Good thinking Matt & Ben.

  2. Catherine says:

    Hi guys
    I watched a really interesting programme the other night where a couple were restoring an old water tower to live in. The reason the water tower was built in the first place was to provide clean drinking water to the residents of Congleton in Cheshire following a devastating cholera outbreak.
    Here is a link to the history given in the programme and illustrates how the advent of piped water changed life in this country.
    Also, and totally unconnected, Year 3 are learning about Egyptians at the moment and they went to Dorchester yesterday on a trip to see a touring Egyptian mummy exhibition. As they love the guts and the gore of Egyptian life, they have been making canopic jars and mummies. There is a brilliant site they have been using to do this – very informative, sufficiently disgusting to appeal to 7/8 year old boys – and here it is:
    love Catherinex

  3. Ian says:

    Great blog (as always!!) – given your own experiences, we’ve been chatting a bit with Sam and Caitlin about how different “normal” is here compared to with you. Lighting, water, transport, waste disposal, education – it’s just what we decide to accept as expected in our society isn’t it?
    Sure Chloe would love to see champers on tap so might put up with water for now!! ;)
    Will chat with Sam and Caitlin about your blog later and post up their rantings…. might be most entertaining.. TTFN x

  4. tom.r says:

    The reason we have tap water is that it is a quick way of getting water to are house.



  5. Frances says:

    Hi Matt and Ben,

    I think that we have water from a tap because its quicker and our water is cleaner and its more convenient.

  6. BenR says:

    How much money is the water you bie?

  7. Ollie.C says:

    Well I would rather be able to have a drink pretty much any time I want instead of waiting for a water-boy to come down our road.Do you not get water out of the tap because the water that comes out of the taps where you live is so hot that you cant drink it.

  8. william says:

    I would like it to be 1000 pounds a year.

  9. conall says:

    Hello =)

    I think we use taps because if we need water urgently we can just go up-stairs and get some but if we bought it it would take a long time to get to the shops.
    That’s code language for we are probably more lazy than you.

    =) =) =) =)

  10. Isabella says:

    I think i that i prefer warter in botals!!
    I don’t know why we have warter in taps, but we need it for cooking!!!!

  11. Lian says:

    Although tap water is tasty , I do prefer bottle water best . :)


  12. amelia says:

    I love tap water!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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