“Is it safe to drink tap water in Rwanda?” a tourist asked on the website of the UK-based travel agency Natural World Safaris.
“Unfortunately, no. We do not recommend you drink tap water during your time in Rwanda. Always ensure you drink bottled water, even when brushing your teeth (this is just a safety precaution)” the response reads.
“You must also make sure that the ice in your drinks is made from bottled or purified water,” it adds.
Whether you can drink tap water in Rwanda or not is a question that has lingered around for so long, sometimes accompanied by stereotypes such as “you can drink tap water in Burundi but not in Rwanda” as one tour operator told KT Press.
“We usually tell our clients not to drink tap water directly while in Rwanda because the water is not potable,” the tour operator said on condition of anonymity.
Asked if there is scientific proof that the water in Rwanda is not clean, he said it is simply because the government tells people to boil water before drinking it.
Potable water refers to water that is safe to drink or to use for food preparation without necessarily boiling it. It is common in most developed countries. In most developing countries however, it is safe to boil water before drinking it, even if it is supplied by the national water utility.
Though the Water and Sanitation Corporation (WASAC) doesn’t explicitly claim that its water is potable up to the end user, it says it is safe for drinking though the utility’s CEO says boiling it first is a good practice but the water is potable enough to drink.
Several media reports, quoting water experts claimed that the water in Kigali is not safe for human consumption, with some claiming that some of the water supplied in the city contains human waste.
WASAC however categorically says the water produced by the utility is 100 per cent safe and can be consumed without boiling, without any implications.
During an interaction session with the media on Wednesday, Aimé Muzola, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of WASAC said the water is safe to drink.
“People who get water from public taps boil it before drinking it. It is a good practice by the way, but it doesn’t mean that the water is dirty. I was once asked by a Member of Parliament if our water is safe to drink and I said fine, let us drink the water from the tap and see if we will fall sick in a week’s time,”
“The MP feared that they would fall sick, but honestly if our water was not safe, many of us would be sick. How many of you boil water before brushing your teeth? We brush and rinse with the same water. Kids actually swallow that water in the process. By now all of us would be sick,” the WASAC CEO said.
In simple terms, he said one would have to have the highest water immunity to fall sick if they used the same water to brush for 10 years or more. He said there is no case where someone fell sick because of drinking WASAC water.
He however said that due to old rusty pipes which the utility is replacing, it is possible that sometimes water gets contaminated on its way to the end user.
“It is possible that one of the old pipes can develop a leakage and the water gets in contact with the outside environment before reaching the end user. Some pipes are as old as 40 years,”
“But what I can assure citizens is that the water we produce is fit for human consumption and meets the international standard. However it is safe to perhaps first boil the water before consuming because of the challenges of an old supply system which I mentioned,” Muzola said.
Indeed, according to the Director General of Rwanda Standards Board (RSB), Raymond Murenzi, the water produced by WASAC is potable but not when it gets to the end user.
“When we measure water potability, there are certain standards we consider to conclude whether water is potable or not. For us to conclude that water meets the standards of being potable, we look at the entire process, right from the source to the end user,”
“Our laboratory tests show that WASAC water is potable at the source where it is produced but not when it gets to the consumer. There are different reasons for that but the main cause is the old pipes that supply the water,” Murenzi said.
He pointed out that water gets contaminated in the old rusty, sometimes broken pipes but also added that handling by the end user could also make water lose its potability.
“How we handle water also matters. If someone for example uses dirty containers or doesn’t clean the tank, the portability is lost,” he said, adding that he is hopeful that when WASAC completes overhauling the water supply system, high levels of potability up to the end user will be achieved.
WASAC said it is investing about $272m in establishing new water projects and replacing old pipes with new high capacity pipes.
According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report released in June this year, 1 in 3 people globally do not have access to safe drinking water.
The report which highlighted inequalities in access to water indicated that some 2.2 billion people around the world do not have safely managed drinking water services.