It’s The Water That Gets You

How safe is the water in Bali?

I recently met a couple visiting Bali. The man was not happy,

“I’ve got Bali belly” he said. “It must have been 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 up near Bogor. I ended up wading in a river and within hours had amoebic dysentery. I got very sick, lost 2 stones in weight and it took me 3 months to find a doctor who could cure me. 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, “let’s trace it back.”

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

“We went to Tanah Lot, it was wonderful.”

“Did you have anything to eat or drink?”. “No, nothing” he insisted.

“What else did you do?”

“We met a priest at the temple, he gave us holy water”.

“He gave you holy water, did he put it in your hands and you sipped it?”


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

Most hotels have their own water treatment plant but if you are living in Bali you will need to take care. Some water comes from wells and unless it has been treated the water cannot be trusted, you don’t know how deep the well is or whether the water is contaminated by groundwater from one of the thousands of leaking septic tanks and pig sties across the island.

A recent case involved five villas in a complex with a shared well. Some of the residents complained of regular bouts of illness and we 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 because ground water may have travelled a long way before entering the well. A well needs to be deep enough to get into clean water and it must be watertight for most of its depth to ensure that there is no seepage from groundwater near the surface.

Bores (borewells) are much better than wells as long as they are properly lined. They are usually much deeper than wells and are able to get down into cleaner water although they do tend to pick up mineral contamination from the rock.

Many urban areas of Bali have a reticulated (town) water supply. The water supply is chlorinated and so is usually quite safe however it can be unreliable due to fluctuating pressure and the many leaks in the system which may allow ground water to enter and contaminate the water supply.

For many of us our water is pumped up to a storage tank but, if the tank has an open top (as many do), then birds and wildlife may leave you a nasty message in the water.

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

If you are a person who is often sick and you haven’t taken out a large life insurance policy recently 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 long term resident of Sanur often felt itchy after showering, the problem was worst in the dry season when the water level in his 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 many years!

If you want clean water in your home there are many filtration options available, some are very good, some are as useful as gills on a donkey and some will need you to get a mortgage to pay for them. There is a lot to consider so we will talk about it another time.

In the meantime for more information about water contamination go to:


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