Bottled water, once seen only in hotels and restaurants and also labeled “turistle khane pani” (tourists’ drinking water) is now almost a Nepali household item, especially in urban Nepal.
In Kathmandu Valley, for instance, where the current water demand is some 320 million liters (MLD) per day versus the state supply of only 85 MLD daily in the dry season, there’s little choice for the Valley’s denizens besides bottled water.
Some 300 bottled-water companies reportedly function in the capital alone, supplying water both in jars and one-liter bottles. Nepal Bottled-Water Industries Association (NBWIA) estimates that the Valley consumes upto one million liters of bottled water daily.
And that’s where the ugly side of the burgeoning bottled-water market is, the issue being the quality of the garden variety copycats available to consumers, and the consequent health hazards ready to strike the consumers.
“Only 129 bottled-water companies of the capital have been officially registered,” says Pramod Koirala, senior food research officer at the Department of Food Technology & Quality Control (DFTQC). “Three years back, 50 percent of the bottled water available in the market was discovered to be of low quality and now it’s down to 30 percent,” he adds. “During our research, we found microorganisms, toxics, chemicals, and in some cases excess amount of minerals in the water.”
Excess of minerals in the water invite grave health issues as it gets deposited in the kidneys and soft tissues of the body. Arsenic, which is usually found in drilled water, can lead to cancers, and consumption of contaminated water also causes nausea, lung irritation and skin rashes, to name a few irritants.
It’s important to note here that in many area s of the Valley, tests of bore water have detected heavy arsenic content. Elsewhere, high iron content has also been reported.
“To start a high-quality water-bottling plant, a company should invest at least Rs 10 million. But there are many unregistered water-processing companies which use low standards of methods to filter water,” says Rabin Shrestha, executive member of NBWIA and business manager at Aqua Minerals Nepal Pvt Ltd.
“There are also many duplicate water bottles available in the market. This has hampered the reputation of bottled drinking water,” says Shrestha who mentioned to The Week that some suppliers even deliver tap water without any filtration.
In an effort to regulate substandard drinking water being supplied in the market, NBWIA has been teaming up with DFTQC to monitor the growing number of unregistered bottled water suppliers.
Shrestha also mentions that the inspection of DFTQC should also be made more valid and the companies which haven’t been officially registered should be closed down whereas those registered ones should be monitored well in order to improve the quality of their bottled water available in the market.
The water analysis which one can read on a bottle shows the content of calcium, magnesium, ammonia and iron, among other elements.
“The analysis is just the natural content of the water and it varies according to the brand, quality of the water, and the source which can be spring, bore, river, or well water,” says Shrestha.
According to the processed drinking water standard of DFTQC, there are 105 parameters to check the quality of water. Among those, the standard requires that the iron content in the water should not exceed by 0.3 milligram. Similarly, for magnesium, it is 75 milligram per liter, and100 milligram per liter for calcium. The Ph value should be 6.5 to 8, and ammonia should be completely absent from drinking water.
As per Shrestha, mineral water and processed bottled water have difference in its contents. But consumers tend to have the wrong notion that all bottled water found in the market is mineral water.
Bottled water available in the market is just processed drinking water with all the germs and toxic removed through various filtration processes to make it drinkable. Pure mineral water, on the other hand, would consist of 40 added minerals which include copper, zinc, and iron, among others.
Subhas Bhandari, President of NBWIA, informs that due to the rising unhealthy competition among various brands, there are lots of companies that cater bottled water but with random pricing. Bhandari says that on average, the price of the bottled water can range from Rs 20 to Rs 120.
“The companies concerned keep the pricing according to the quality of water they supply which just confuses the consumers more.”
DFTQC is working on a plan to introduce stickers with DFTQC numbers for every bottled water container available in the market for authenticity by showing that the said company is a registered one, and also to ensure that the water is certified for drinking.
“For now, all we can do is to ask consumers to check the sticker on the bottled water which claims that it has been produced and processed with Reverse Osmosis Technology, is UV-sterilized and has gone through ozonation, a process to kill bacteria.”