Public health advice when water supply is low

How do I keep my hands clean without mains water?
It is still very important to ensure that your hands are clean before cooking food and eating, as many gastrointestinal illnesses are transmitted through dirty hands. The very young and the elderly are especially vulnerable. For this reason, people should:

  • use any water you have for hand hygiene first before you use it for showering and bathing;
  • use antibacterial hand gels or wipes if you have them;
  • be extra vigilant in supervising small children to keep their hands clean.

Can I drink the water I get from the bowser at the distribution points?
Bottled water should preferably be used for drinking when your water is in short supply. Bowser water is drinkable but the container you use to collect it, while looking clean, may contain bacteria. Therefore, the following steps should be taken:

  • Ensure that you use a very clean container to collect the water.
  • If you are unsure regarding the cleanliness of the container, it is advised that you boil the water and cool it, before using it for cooking and drinking.
  • Bowser water can be used for making tea or coffee as it is boiled, and it can also be used for cooking.

Can I brush my teeth with water from a bowser?
The water you use to brush your teeth should be of the same quality as the water you drink. You should preferably use bottled water.

My baby is on formula feed so how do I feed my baby?

  • Use boiled water brought to a ‘rolling boil’ and make up feed in the usual way.
  • Ready-made preparations are available and can be used as an alternative.
  • It should be noted that some types of bottled water may not be suitable for making up infant formula because of high salt levels (sodium concentrations of less than 20mg/l are preferable and not more than 200mg/l). There may be labelling on the bottle that will indicate if it is not suitable for making up infant formula.

Boiling water
Care should be taken when boiling water and pouring it into containers to cool as there is a risk of scalds. The boiled water should be poured into a clean container, which can be covered and allowed to cool. This should be kept away from children.

How do I flush my toilet without mains water?
Flushing a toilet uses between three and seven litres of water, so it is important that unnecessary flushing does not take place.

  • Toilets do not require sterile water for flushing.
  • Water from distribution points can be used if you have enough to drink.
  • Waste water, such as dish water, can be used to flush the toilet. You can fill the cistern with that water or pour it down the toilet until it is cleared.
  • Rain water can be collected in buckets and used for this purpose.

How do I keep my house warm without mains water?
Most houses have central heating systems that are based on radiators filled with water and which are heated by an oil or gas boiler. There is a chance that these systems will be affected by the shortage of mains water supplies. It is important if your heating is not working to take the following steps:

  • Consult a plumber to assess the cause of the non-functioning boiler.
  • If using alternative heating appliances, ensure they have been adequately maintained and the manufacturer’s instructions are followed.
  • The important message is to keep yourself warm, so do the following:

– Wear several thin layers of clothing as they will keep you warmer than one thick layer. Wear a hat, gloves and scarf if necessary.
– When inside, keep moving and try not to sit still for more than one hour at a time, as activity generates body heat.
– Eat well, with frequent warm healthy meals and drinks – but avoid alcoholic drink as this can lower body temperature.

Finally, the PHA advises that people check on their vulnerable and elderly neighbours, who may not be able to get water from distribution points. Make sure they have everything they need to keep warm, watered and fed.

Notes to the editor

Further information