Hesperian Health Guides

Store Water Safely

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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 6: Protecting Community Water > Store Water Safely

If water is not handled carefully while it is being collected, carried, and stored in containers, it can be easily contaminated. Water stored in tanks with cracked walls, or containers with loose, poorly made, or missing covers can be contaminated by animal waste and germs.

Detective story: How did the drinking water get contaminated?

This activity helps explore how water drawn from a well, spring, or tap can become contaminated before it is consumed. It can be done with 4 people or more.

Time: ½ hour

  1. The facilitator explains to the group they are health detectives, then gives the detectives their briefing. Here’s an example: 10 families collect clean drinking water from a well. During the next few days, children from one family become sick from drinking contaminated water at home. The other families are fine. The task for the detectives is to find out how the water became contaminated after it was drawn from the well.
  2. The facilitator asks for 1 to 3 volunteers. Away from where the rest of the group can hear, the facilitator explains that their role is to give “clues” as the group asks questions to try to discover how the water became contaminated. Then the facilitator can either tell the volunteers, or ask them to quickly decide, how the water got contaminated before they rejoin the rest of the group.
  3. The group then takes turns asking the volunteers questions, who respond with “clues” until someone is able to guess correctly how the water became contaminated.
  4. If the group is large, it can be divided into several teams. Limit the number of questions, for example, allow each team or person up to 4 questions. The first person or team to guess the right answer wins.

A man asks questions of 2 seated men while other people look on.

Was the water jar covered the whole time?
It was covered after it was brought to the house.

Repeat the activity several times with different ways the water became contaminated. Afterwards, the facilitator can lead a discussion to explore the different ways that drinking water becomes contaminated. Talk about what can be done to keep drinking water clean and how to do that at home and throughout the community.

Keeping water containers clean

Stored water can become unsafe when it is touched by people with dirty hands, when it is poured into a dirty container, when dirt or dust gets in the water, and when dirty cups are put into it. To prevent water from becoming unsafe at home:

EHB Ch6 Page 91-1.png
Narrow mouthed containers are safest for storing water.
  • Wash hands before collecting and carrying water.
  • Clean and cover the container that is used to carry water.
  • Regularly clean the container where water is stored in the house.
  • Keep water containers off the floor and away from animals.
  • Pour water out without touching the mouth of the container, or use a clean, long-handled dipper to take water out of the container.
  • Clean all cups that are used for drinking.
  • Never store water in containers that have been used for pesticides or toxic chemicals.
  • If possible, do not treat more water than you need for short-term use. For drinking and cooking, that is usually less than 5 liters for each person each day.

Cover tanks and cisterns

An urn.

Covered tanks and cisterns are safer for storing water than open ponds because mosquitoes and snails cannot live in closed tanks. Covering storage tanks also reduces water loss from evaporation. If water is stored in ponds or ditches, digging them deeper will expose less water to the air and so will reduce the amount lost to evaporation.

Cisterns should be placed as close as possible to where the water will be used.

Fix leaks

A leaking tap.

A lot of water can be lost through leaks, evaporation, and seepage. To save water, make sure taps are closed when they are not in use. Fix or replace broken or leaky pipes and cracked tanks as soon as leaks are found. Leaks are also a sign of possible contamination, because germs and dirt enter the cracks in tanks and pipes.