Tourists coming to Dubai often have this question in their minds. People in the US and UK are used to drinking water directly taken from their taps. So what about Dubai? Generally speaking, yes, you can drink the tap water in Dubai. But there is a catch to this.
Water supply in Dubai
Dubai is a desert city. Natural water sources in Dubai are rare to find. The city relies mostly on desalinated seawater for the water supply. There are two main desalination plants in Dubai — one in Jebel Ali and the other one in Al Kaffah. These two plants account for 80 percent of the city’s water needs.
Dubai has turned into a global business hub in the past century. People from countries around the world come here to work. Many of the expats spend most of their life here than in their native lands. In the last century, the population of Dubai exploded and grew manifold. A small city where about 20,000 people lived became a metropolis within a few decades. A growth which is unprecedented in human history.
Today, there are about 3 million people in Dubai. In an arid land where water resources are scarce, Dubai’s only resort was the sea. As all or most of the developments in Dubai are close to the sea, things got a tad bit easier. Still, it was a Herculean undertaking. The fact that Dubai hasn’t experienced any water shortages in the past decades shows the efficiency of their planning.
The quality of the tap water in Dubai
The standard of life in Dubai is on par with that of the developed countries. There are high-quality health care, education, and some of the best roads in the world. But what about the tap water?
Dubai Electricity and water authority (DEWA) manages and oversees the supply of water, cooking gas and electricity in Dubai. They go to great lengths in ensuring that the water supply is clean and meets the World Health Organization’s recommendations for potable water.
The first part of supplying clean drinking water is desalinating salt water and purifying it. The desalination is done by a process called reverse osmosis. After extracting the water, the brine is returned to the sea. After that, the water is treated to remove any harmful bacteria through chlorination.
In some countries, fluorine is added to the tap water to prevent tooth decay. But not in Dubai. This, however, has no effect on the safety of the water. Some have even claimed that overconsumption of fluorine is bad for health.
After the purification of water, it has to be sent to the consumers through pipes. Supply pipes are a potential source of contamination. It can be either through a broken pipe or corrosion. But the authorities take strict measures to clean the pipes regularly. They use fully biodegradable biocide disinfectants, which leaves no harmful residue.
Can you drink tap water in Dubai
The tap water that you receive from the supply company is perfectly safe to drink. Furthermore, the water supply infrastructure of Dubai has a large surplus reserve to compensate even if everyone in Dubai starts to use tap water for drinking and cooking. But, what about the tanks and pipes in your building? Are they safe?
There are a few factors that affect the quality of the water from the consumer side. One is the quality of the pipe used. If they are substandard, they can cause corrosion and pollute the water. The pipes also require periodic cleaning.
Another part of the puzzle is the storage tank. Residues from the water will settle down at the bottom of the tank and accumulate over time. This can result in the growth of molds and fungus, which will render the water unsafe to drink. A few, though, compensate this by boiling the tap water.
Can you cook with tap water in Dubai?
All the cafes and restaurants in Dubai use tap water for cooking. Apart from the fact that the water is perfectly safe, using bottled water will skyrocket the cost of the food. Bottled water is 50 times more expensive than tap water.
Some people go to extremes by using bottled water for cooking. This practice simply worsens the impact plastic bottles have on the environment and their pockets. Cooking involves heating the water to a level which will remove the impurities. When you use tap water for cooking, you are reducing the number of plastic bottles thrown away.
If you are skeptical, simply installing a water filter will save a lot of money for you in the long run.
Should you buy bottled water
It is estimated that, on average, a Dubai resident consumes about 275 liters of bottled water a year. That is among the highest in the world. There are a few reasons why people prefer bottled water to drink. One is the taste. Even though 90 percent of the bottled water companies use tap water, they add extra minerals to make it taste better.
The problem with RO (reverse osmosis) is that it removes all the minerals in the water. This, in turn, changes the taste of it. You can remineralize the water by using a water filter in your home.
The other reason is convenience and fear. Bottled water is readily available everywhere, and people don’t bother to drink from the tap. But a lot of them are just afraid to drink from the taps. There are many myths about the health effects of tap water. Most of which are untrue.
There are concerns about the safety of bottled water too. Even though the bottled water undergoes strict regulations in Dubai, there are chances of pollution after the water has left the company facility. Often the plastic bottles containing water are left in scorching heat for hours before they arrive at your doorsteps or supermarket shelves. Considering the fact that temperatures in Dubai can get quite high in summer, there is a high chance of plastic contamination of the water. Repeated use of the bottles can cause chemicals like BPA to leach into the water.
So what should you do
Ask your landlord how often he inspects and cleans the water system. The storage tanks and plumbing in private buildings are not the responsibility of the government authorities. Therefore it is the building owner who should be carrying out regular maintenance.
If you are not sure about the plumbing and water storage of your facility, you can test the quality of the water. You can either use a home test kit or take it to a laboratory. Results using home test kits may not be very reliable, but they are obviously better than nothing. And if you find it safe, kudos! Now you can drink tap water without any fear. The other option is to install a filtration system.
Salination of the sea
There is contention for acquiring the huge volumes of freshwater from the sea. Because the brine returns back to the sea, it can cause an increase in the salt content in the Arabian Gulf. Remember that the only connection the Gulf has to the Arabian sea is the Strait of Hormuz, which is only 96 kilometers wide at its narrowest part. Therefore the exchange of water is a bit slow. It is estimated that it takes nine years to replace the water of the Arabian Gulf completely.
As the output of desalination plants increases, it might also increase the salinity of the water to the extent that it is harmful to marine life.
Is tap water bad for your skin and hair?
Another main complaint about the tap water in Dubai is that it causes hair loss and greying. People say that they experienced a significant increase in hair fall within the first few months they started living in Dubai.
There is some truth to the claim that tap water causes hair fall. The chlorine content in the water will cause the skin and scalp to dry up a little bit. But the major contributing factor to dry skin is something else. It might be because those living in Dubai spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors in air conditioned rooms. Air conditioners remove humidity from the room, causing dryness to some people. Another factor can be their stressful lifestyle itself. But these effects are reversible. The most they can do is to make your hair a little more frizzy.
But there is no evidence to say that tap water causes greying of the hair. Quite the contrary, studies show no trace of any such chemicals in the water. Most likely, they have a genetic predisposition for greying. Or it could be a vitamin deficiency or oxidative stress.
Despite all these, there is a huge market in Dubai for anti hair fall shower filters. Not to say that shower filters are bad. Shower filters do remove the hardness of the water to some extent.