It’s the water that gets you

I recently met a couple visiting Bali. The man was not happy, “I’ve got Bali belly” he said. “It was that warung we went to last night”.

“It’s usually the water that gets you” I replied.

Years ago, I had learned the hard way. When I first came to Indonesia in the 70’s I was visiting a piece of land near Bogor. It’s a long story but, in short, there was a border dispute over a river, I ended up wading in the river and within hours had amoebic dysentery. I got very sick, lost two stones in weight, and it took me three months to find a doctor who could give me a cure. Since then, I have always been careful around water and, as a result, have gone for years without stomach problems. In contrast, a friend of mine always has problems, “stop cleaning your teeth in the well water” I tell him.

“I’m sure it was that warung” the man went on.

“What did you eat?” I asked,

“Fried rice” he replied.

“Fried rice is freshly cooked in a hot wok and is usually pretty safe,” I said.


I traced it back.

“What were you doing 4 hours before you started the symptoms?”.

“We went to Ubud.”

“Did you have anything to eat or drink?”

“Only a glass of fruit juice from a warung.”

“With ice in it?”


“Do you know where the ice came from?”

“No, but I was fine, we even went whitewater rafting afterwards, it was great.”

“Brownwater rafting?” I said, “and did they throw you in the water at the end?”

“Yes,” he said slowly as a light went on somewhere in the deep crevices of his brain.

“It’s usually the water that gets you” I repeated.

If you live in Bali and you want to avoid the galloping trots you need to take care with your water supply. Some water comes from wells and unless it has been treated, it cannot be trusted. You don’t know how deep the well is or whether groundwater or a nearby septic tank is contaminating the water.

A recent case involved five villas in a complex with a shared well. Some of the residents complained of regular bouts of illness and eventually got the water tested. It was found to be contaminated with faeces. In such a case, it is often difficult to identify the source of contamination, groundwater can seep a long way through the ground before it reaches the well. Wells need to be deep enough to get into clean water and also need to be watertight for most of their depth to ensure that there is no seepage into the well from the ground near the surface.

Bores are better, as long as they are properly lined, they are usually much deeper than wells and get can down into purer water although bores do tend to pick up mineral contamination from the rock.

In many built-up areas of Bali, there is a town reticulated water supply. The water is chlorinated but, due to the many leaks in the distribution system, groundwater can enter and contaminate the water supply.

In many houses water is pumped up to a tank to be gravity fed to your house, this gives a good steady water pressure, but if the tank has an open top (as some do) then birds, algae or other things may contaminate the water.

These different sources of water are usually quite safe to wash in but take care, don’t clean your teeth in it, don’t get it in your mouth when you shower and don’t make ice cubes from it. If you wash the dishes, make sure that they are dried off before you use them for food or drink and wash salads in bottled water.

If you keep getting sick, then you might consider whether you have a problem with your water supply. You can get a water sample lab-tested if you think that may be necessary.

A man I knew often felt itchy after showering, the problem was worst in the dry season when the water level in the well was low. He moved to another house, the itching stopped and his health generally improved. He commented that going to the toilet was now a far more pleasant experience than it had been for years!

If you want potable (drinking quality) water in your house then this is possible in Bali. There are companies on the island that offer water treatment equipment to provide pure, clean water for all your households needs. This can, however, be expensive and very wasteful in buying filtration cartridges and membranes.

You might also consider harvesting rainwater which you can read about here:


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