The Herald (Harare)

31 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Bottled Water - Customer Safety Must Come First

editorial

There is a common catch line associated with conservationists that goes "water is life". Without water we cannot talk of life, showing how true that statement has been, is and will forever be. As urban settlements grow, the glaring need for safer and enough sources of water are brought to the fore and it is in such situations that some enterprising, but unscrupulous businesspeople come into the picture as they seek to make quick buck from the desperate urban dwellers in need of safe water.

We are glad that the Government has moved in swiftly to halt such individuals in their tracks before they posed a health hazard. We carried a story in which Government was reported to have banned several water bottling companies for failing to meet basic hygienic requirements.

Only 15 out of 49 companies that had applied for licences were registered, a 30 percent success rate meaning 70 percent of the suppliers have fallen short, a worrying statistic indeed.

We learn that only 21 brands from 15 companies supplying bottled water had been certified by the Food Standards Advisory Board.

"This means unregistered bottled water brands should be removed from the shelves and destroyed," said the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare food control deputy director Mr Freddy Chinyavanhu.

While we applaud the Government for moving in to protect consumers and safeguard the nation's health, we are worried at the poor monitoring by the relevant agencies. It is our view that the public's health has been endangered through the legal sale of unsafe water through licensed premises.

What is even more terrifying is that many of the bottled water suppliers have the Standards Association of Zimbabwe seal of approval on their product making even the most skeptical consumer trust their water. We believe there is a need to ensure that water bottling plants are checked randomly to ensure that they comply with regulations instead of a situation whereby compliance is only for the purposes of getting a licence.

So many people drink bottled water in major towns especially due to the belief that it is cleaner and safer than tap water whose quality has been declining over the years. We are told that though poor, the quality of tap water was still well within World Health Organisations recommended limits.

Consumers need to know that the water they are buying is of good quality instead of bearing the cost of bottled water that turns out to be unsafe.

Also, we feel bottling company owners should re-examine their conscience and choose the right thing instead of endangering a whole nation in pursuit of profit. They have a moral duty to do so.

Like Martin Luther King once said, "Morality cannot be legislated, but behaviour can be regulated". We call upon water bottling firms to be responsible citizens and ensure safety of their customers, some of whom survived cholera and typhoid outbreaks and now rely on bottled water as a prevention measure.

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