Drinking water is water suitable for human and animal consumption. It is also called drinking water, in reference to its intended use. Water can be naturally drinkable, as is the case with virgin springs, or it may need to be treated to be safe. In both cases, water safety is assessed by testing for potentially harmful pollutants.
The issue of access to drinking water is very important. In developed countries, people may not think much about the source of their water. In many first world countries, citizens can turn on the tap for fresh, potable water that can also be enriched with substances for health. In developing countries, however, and especially in Africa, a large part of the population does not have access to drinking water.
Non-potable water can carry diseases and heavy metals. People who consume this water will get sick and there is a risk of death. Unfortunately, even in areas where water is known to be unsafe, people can drink it anyway, out of desperation. Lack of clean water is often accompanied by other sanitation deficiencies, such as open sewers and limited garbage collection. Many of these public health problems affect the poor more than anyone.
Contaminated water can be treated to make it drinking water. One of the easiest ways to treat water is by boiling it. Boiling water may not remove heavy contaminants, but it can neutralize most bacteria and viruses that may be present. Water can also be treated with chemicals such as bleach, which are sometimes presented in tablet form for use in the field and in camping. In addition, water can be pumped through a filter to remove particles.
Because water quality is important, many countries are working to protect the safety of their water and improve access to safe drinking water. Some countries have laws regulating water safety, with severe penalties for pollutants. These countries usually test the water regularly to detect pollutants, making the results of these tests available to citizens on request. In developing countries, many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are working to improve water quality conditions as well as other basic sanitation systems.
Even in first world countries, after a major disaster, access to drinking water can be limited. People in this situation can seek drinking water from water heaters and toilet tanks, and must save this water for consumption. Non-potable water can often be used for bathing and cleaning. Having cleaning pads on hand in an emergency preparedness kit is also a great idea. After major storms and hurricanes, citizens should wait to make sure their water is safe to drink, in case sewer lines break and contaminate the water supply.