If you’re traveling to Budapest, one of the things you’ll want to know is whether the drinking water is safe. If it is, you can rest easy and you won’t have to pack any extra supplies, But if it’s not, you’ll want to make sure you bring along some key items to purify water when you need it.
Is the tap water in Budapest safe to drink? It isn’t unsafe to drink water from Hungary’s most populous city. According to a CDC advisory, food and water standards are similar here in the U.S. However, when traveling to remote or rural areas served by “unregulated water sources,” it is advised to take every precaution to ensure your safety when drinking local water.
Did you know that Budapest pipelines run for more than 2,875 miles and needs “97 pressure zone” booster pumps?” Or, that 90-percent of their buildings are over a century-old and may contain lead contamination? What does this have to do with tap water safety? We’ll explain.
Is the Tap Water Safe to Drink in Budapest?
There has been a proliferation of articles and attention aimed at this question, and to understand why we must first examine what has occurred. We’ll also review general water safety guidelines when traveling, and highlight a couple of alternatives to drinking tap water.
5 Facts Behind the Tap Water Issue in Budapest
After the CDC advisory was released, the Orbán government launched a global campaign using the pipeline facts (among others), to point to their safe drinking water quality. Here are the facts.
- FACT #1: The CDC advises that tap water, “in most developing countries, should probably not be drunk, even in cities.” Hungary isn’t developing, so it doesn’t apply here. The point is the CDC has to do its due diligence and protect American travelers, in all circumstances, including in their general literature. In fact, even Canada’s IAMAT has done something similar.
- FACT #2: Budapest reacted strongly on several fronts. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, “there is no health risk of any kind attached to the consumption of tap water,” and that the “quality was excellent … in excess of 95-percent, even by European standards.” Then Orbán UN Ambassador Katalin Bogyay tweeted, “Tap water’s quality in Hungary is excellent, actually very good to drink!”
- FACT #3: Reporter David Dercsenyi with HVG said in his article that they probably have lead in their pipes, but “drinking water is high quality in 95 percent of the country and can be consumed in every municipality.” He also said later in the same article that “the government even corrects newspaper articles …”
- FACT #4: A search on tap water in Budapest will result in multiple versions of the same message or similar references calling the water purity excellent. There’s the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bud News, Info Budapest, Budapest HU, Daily Hungary News, and a study by the Waterworks of Budapest
- FACT #5: One news outlet – the Hungarian Free Press – appeared to be a rare source that questioned everything. It said, “the Orbán government did what they do best: they denied the problems and started a propaganda campaign to discredit the CDC.” They reported Hungarian authorities as saying the water had a “general adequacy rate [of] 97.7%.”
The IAMAT Food and Water Safety Update on Hungary
The IAMAT page on Hungary said the quality of tap water and access to clean drinking water varies from place to place. The safety of water at any destination is determined by specific factors in the locality, such as distribution systems and the quality of water enforcement standards, IAMAT concluded.
Even slight changes in water quality can cause diarrhea, and they warned that water quality could be affected by:
- Lack of safe water storage
- Old pipes or water treatment systems
- Poor sanitation infrastructure
- Agricultural run-off
- Chemical pollutants
- Human or animal waste
- Water-related events such as flooding
“Tap water at your destination will have no ill effect on the local population, but due to different treatment standards, there may be higher concentration or unfamiliar strains of E.coli bacteria present.” – International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT)
Water Impurities Across the Globe
The locals of Budapest are very proud of their drinking fountains across their city – as they should, but that doesn’t mean you’re system can handle it. Further, it’s not just your body that isn’t used to the different levels of minerals and impurities in foreign places.
People around the world have similar food and water safety concerns when traveling to different countries, and many have gotten sick. Even the tap water in the UK has higher levels of calcium and magnesium than visitors may be used to.
That’s not to say that America doesn’t have rural and outlying areas or even cities with tap water impurities and lead contamination. Further, many counties have issues with hard water, which contains iron, manganese, and aluminum. Hence, it’s best to be on the safe side and following travel advisories.
Practicing Safe Water Drinking Habits While Traveling
Now that we’ve seen the facts, we’ll let you decide what’s in your best interest when traveling to Budapest and elsewhere. They do have natural mineral and spring water available, but there are no guarantees that you wouldn’t get sick – and again, that goes for anywhere you travel.
If you choose to drink only bottled water, your hotel should have a supply, as do local shopping malls, but you should still be careful. The CDC says of any country that some dishonest vendors sell tap water in “sealed” bottles to mimic a factory seal, so it’s best to drink carbonated (directly from the factory with a non-tampering seal). The IAMAT agrees, adding that bottled water can also be outdated.
Also, stick with brands that you’re familiar with, especially ones you trust from home. The IAMAT adds, “if you do purchase bottled water, do so from a reputable source.” Here are additional safety recommendations when traveling.
|Do Drink||Don’t Drink|
|· Water that has been disinfected (boiled, treated, and filtered)
· Carbonated beverages, soda, and sports drinks in tamper-proof, capped bottles
· Bottled water that you can inspect and uncap yourself or that is opened in front of you
· Hot tea and coffee
· Wash hands with soap and water (before and after food preparation and eating, and after using the bathroom)
· Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol
· Brush your teeth and gargle with treated water if you’re unsure of the water quality
|· Drink tap or well water if you’re uncertain of the quality or the source
· Beverages that contain ice (ice usually comes from tap water)
· Drinks made with tap or well water, including ice pops
· Unpasteurized milk and juice, fountain drinks, and beverages made with tap water such as reconstituted juice
· Concentrated or powdered beverages mixed with untreated water
· Share food, beverages, and utensils with others
· Ingest water from freshwater sources including streams, ponds, and lakes
Other Things You Can Do to Protect Yourself
If you’ve ever had traveler’s diarrhea, you know bacteria doesn’t discriminate. However, bottled water adds to global pollution, so there are other options, such as filters and purification tablets.
You can treat the water with tablets containing iodine and chlorine (though it’s not recommended for long-term use). Also, filters coming in varying sizes (they can be bulky and expensive, however). Hence, water bottle filters are the most popular and convenient method if you’re looking for alternatives.
For more helpful advice about what you may need to know about when traveling, check out these safety links from IAMAT and the CDC: