If It’s Tuesday, it Must be the Water


And now, the post you’ve all been waiting for — on municipal water supply.  Last weekend I visit a small town on the Meuse river in Belgium, and as I’m coming back on the train, I suddenly begin not feeling pretty.  I think it’s a stomach flu, but it’s much too short for that.  A day and a half of mild fever and  fireworks, if you know what I mean, then pretty much back to normal.  In Mexico, they call it Montezuma’s revenge.

Seems like an odd question in 2008, but can you actually drink the tap water in Belgium?  Everywhere?   Yes, yes, I know I should have been drinking beer and wine, and I did lots of that. ("In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria.") But in the middle of the night, I quenched my thirst with a couple of glasses from the tap.  I think that’s what laid me low.  Anyone else had this experience?

[Sociological commentary on movie poster — and that all-star cast of "foreigners"! — also welcome]

19 thoughts on “If It’s Tuesday, it Must be the Water

  1. If this is any indication, the 2003 UNESCO World Water Development Report ranks Belgium at no. 122 of 122 countries tested according to the quality of their water as well as their ability and commitment to improve the situation. According to UNESCO, Belgium is considered the worst basically because of the low quantity and quality of its groundwater combined with heavy industrial pollution and poor treatment of wastewater. By the way, Germany came in 57th, not very prominent either.


  2. That UNESCO report is very interesting. While Germany as 57th does not seem to be doing great, its score at -0.06 is in the middle of a very broad spectrum of developed countries that clustering narrowly around 0, whereas Belgium’s score at below -2 indeed seems clearly way below that middle-of-the-road spectrum. We don’t know what “0” means and whatever scale they use obviously. Just reading and trying to understand the figures.


  3. Is that actually true, Steiner?

    I perused the entire table and the only developed countries below Germany were Israel (-.33) and Belgium (-2.25). Belgium, BTW, would have to improve almost a full point to become only second-worst, catching Morocco at -1.36!

    The closest developed country to Germany is Italy at +.47 (31st) unless one counts Bulgaria (+.04), South Africa (+.09), or Turkey (+.10) as developed!

    Well at least now we know why German tourists spend their holiday anywhere but Germany. Think of it as a health cure! 😉


  4. Are you the same Don who wrote about three pages of rambling comments, name calling and all, after i once made a remark that I didn’t think Germany blindly joining the Iraq war would have been the best idea ever?

    What is it that you have been drinking? Not water anyway it seems.

    Read up on “normal distribution”, then think of some names to call me, then post again. Or then again, don’t post again. Thank you.


  5. Sorry, dude, you’re way off. Look at the table again. Germany isn’t in the middle of a normal distribution of comparable countries. Not quite way out on the tail, with Israel and particularly Belgium occupying that territory, but out there. Virtually all of the other traditional ‘developed’ countries are in the top 20, with Italy the only one out of the top 30 (and barely at that). Look at France and the Nordic countries – those are the places normally compared with Germany. But it’s not even close in this case…..

    As for your kind invitation to bugger off? Well I couldn’t possibly comment about a civilized remark like that one. What do I drink? Water, old chap. I live in a country where it’s good to drink, the UK……


  6. I must say I find this score dubious. I have already been in a couple of countries ranking higher than Germany, like Botswana and Venezuela, where it was explicitly not recommended to drink tap water, something you can do everywhere in Germany. I’d be a bit skeptical here, especially since nowhere is explained what these numbers mean. On the other hand I’m perhaps a bit spoiled in that respect, since I live in Munich where the tap water is really excellent. (See here, e.g.: http://www.sueddeutsche.de/muenchen/artikel/78/16062/)

    Montezuma’s revenge is BTW called the same here: Montezumas Rache.


  7. I’m definitely not buying that Belgium’s water supply is drastically worse than Haiti’s or the Sudan’s. That’s nuts. How many of the people in those countries even have access to running water? There has to be some variable totally skewing this comparison. Or maybe Belgium forgot to include a crisp new 500-Euro note with its completed survey.


  8. Which kind of water is this UNESCO table talking about? I don’t think they are talking about tap water, they are talking about natural water in lakes, rivers, groundwater, etc. In their own words at the bottom of the page, one of the things they are summing up in the numbers are “the quality of freshwater, especially groundwater”. Someone should have a look at the complete report instead of citing out of context and fighting about that.

    Finland and Canada for example have many lakes in large sparsely inhabited regions. Germany and Belgium are densely inhabited and have been industrialized for ages, and the rivers like the Rhine are polluted (though it is getting better, swimming in the Rhine is dangerous because of the drowning hazards, not because of the water being toxic).

    But, according to wikipedia and other sources i don’t have links for handy, “In Deutschland, Österreich, der Schweiz und den Niederlanden ist Trinkwasser das am intensivsten kontrollierte Lebensmittel und damit zum Verzehr ohne Einschränkung brauchbar und empfehlenswert. Die Anforderungen an Trinkwasser sind höher als bei industriell abgepacktem Wasser (Mineralwasser, Tafelwasser, usw.), da der Gesetzgeber bei Trinkwasser einen lebenslangen Verzehr annimmt.”


  9. You might have a point there, strcmp. That could account for the low ratings of Belgium and Israel.

    I’d consider Germany’s problems in this sphere as comparable to those of the UK, Italy, France, Nederlands, and perhaps Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary, all of which outrank Germany in that survey by middling to great amounts. The UK probably has fewer freshwater lakes than Germany does. Germany has some big polluted rivers with high population pressure but the UK has the Thames, Tees, and several others which could easily match them. You think Nederlands doesn’t have a problem with the Maas (Rhine), being at the mouth as they are? Italy has the Po and the Tiber – hardly bywords for purity. France has the Seine, Rhone, and shares the Rhine.

    Italy and France have some mountain lakes to offset things a little, but I think Germany much have such lakes also. A big one shared with Switzerland (Konstantz) I think.

    Perhaps Germany has a higher population density than France or Italy? I can’t believe Germany is more densely populated than the UK or Nederlands though! Anyone have some data on this?

    I think your idea has merit when comparing Germany with Norway, Sweden, Finland, and much of the US however.


  10. Don: When it’s about ground water then where and in what depth the ground water is found is certainly also an issue. The shallower, the higher the risk that it gets polluted by agriculture. Plus, the quantity of freshwater available seems also to be an issue, as Norbert said. These two factors would be hard to influence.


  11. It is also not true that German tourists spend their holidays anywhere but Germany. In recent years, the figures for domestic tourism have gone up quite substantially (the primary reason may be because it’s cheaper at home, but still).


  12. “Montezuma’s revenge is BTW called the same here: Montezumas Rache.”

    I was hoping for something more exotic, something like ‘Kaiser’s Komplaint’ or something. I was also thinking of something dating a bit later, but we don’t want to invoke Godwin’s Law, do we? 😉

    For some people posting here I would like to suggest they seek a remedy for an illness alleged to be common in Germany; lack of a sense of humor. I hear that this can be treated by hormonic transplants these days, the treatment being commonly available in France, Italy, and even Austria.


  13. Out of curiosity I tried to look up the context in the 2003 UNESCO World Water Development Report. One might expect that this ominous “indicator” is more clearly explained there. (By the way, a second WWDR was published in 2006, so this one is outdated.) You can find the report online here. Turns out that when you open the relevant chapter, this very table is missing for no fathomable reason. There is simply a blank page (pg. 140) in the middle of the report. The table, which would be table 6.5, is never mentioned in the text either, unlike other tables. (How do I even know I’m looking in the right place? Because the table does appear in the Index of Figures, Maps, Boxes and Tables.) Very mysterious.


    an illness alleged to be common in Germany; lack of a sense of humor

    We prefer to think of it as an unusually high standard for funniness, if you don’t mind.


  14. “There is simply a blank page (pg. 140) in the middle of the report.”

    Sounds like a sneaky deutscher plot to me. On second thought it could be the result of an EU initiative emanating from Bruxelles, or Mossad action! 😉

    “We prefer to think of it as an unusually high standard for funniness, if you don’t mind.”

    Dry, very dry, Sebastian…. I see you have no personal need for therapy. No, I was thinking specifically of a poster who shows up once a year about this time then goes away for another year. Plase satisfy my curiosity, do German Lands empty the asylums for Carneval? 😉


  15. “an illness alleged to be common in Germany; lack of a sense of humor

    We prefer to think of it as an unusually high standard for funniness, if you don’t mind.”

    Are you sure it’s not something like circumcision, Sebastian? 😉


  16. Don: The more common (and vulgar) expressions are “Scheisserei”, “Dünnschiss”, “Dünnpfiff” or some other variation of that theme.


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