Can you drink Amazon River water? The Amazon River is one of Earth’s most mysterious and vital places. Considering that it’s the largest river by volume of water and its basin holds about 20% of all the liquid water in the world, it’s hard to imagine that people over there struggle to drink water. But it happens.
Generally, you can’t drink water straight from the Amazon River. Overall, the quality of the water in the river is good. However, it contains sediments, organic matter, and microorganisms harmful to humans. So it’s essential to filter and purify the Amazon River water before drinking it.
At the same time, the water from the Amazon is a blessing and a threat. While it’s essential for fertilizing and turning life possible in the rainforest, drinking water is an everyday challenge for the Amazon river dwellers.
In this article, you’ll learn all about the quality of the water in the Amazon and the dangers involved in its collection (including Sharks, Anacondas, and the worst creature on Earth). Also, you’ll discover why for some specialists, the Amazon river water can be considered a “soup of diseases.” To learn all about it, keep reading.
Can You Drink Water From The Amazon River?
Drinking water straight from a river is usually not a good idea, and in the Amazon river, it’s no different. It doesn’t matter how clean the water seems because it can contain microorganisms, bacteria, and toxins that can cause serious health problems for humans. In some cases, even death, especially in remote rainforest areas where hospital care is rare and not accessible.
Therefore, in the Amazon basin, even in the clean water rivers (like Tapajós or Xingu), treating the water before drinking is a must. But the truth is that most of the waters in the Amazon are not inviting to drink anyways. They tend to be dark (when they carry a large amount of organic matter) or muddy (sediments and even erosion of volcanic soils in the origin of the river in Peru).
All of these materials are a true gift for the wildlife and biodiversity of the rainforest, but not for human hydration. So, in short:
As a general rule, you can’t drink the water from the Amazon River without a filtering process. The Amazon River waters are rich in microorganisms, organic matter, and minerals that are fantastic for the wildlife and biodiversity of the rainforest but not well suited for human consumption.
The fact that the waters are not suitable for humans to drink without treatment doesn’t mean they’re bad. On the contrary, this biological matter is fundamental to life and makes possible the existence of the Amazon rainforest, the most important in the world. Moreover, a recent study showed that the waters in the Amazon basin are so rich that they act like a natural fertilizer for the rainforest and the familiar agriculture of the riverside population.
“Flooding regions suffer subsequent flooding during the flood season which is affected by the large river quota. This produces highly fertile soils that could reduce the need for fertilizer application during family farming activities.”Nilda Pantoja
The river’s waters are excellent for the rainforest’s wildlife and biodiversity. But for human consumption, it’s not the same. Drinking clean water is an everyday challenge for the riverside population, which seems unthinkable considering that they are surrounded by the biggest (and most important) basin on Earth.
Drinking Water: A Surprising Challenge In The Amazon River
Living in the rainforest is thought. According to Instituto Trata Brasil, in the Northern region of Brazil (where most of the Amazon rainforest is located), less than 60% of the population has access to treated water, and only 13% have a sewage system. Even with 81% of Brazil’s fresh water and 20% of the entire planet, the Amazon has the worst basic sanitation levels in the country.
Over there, water for drinking, cooking, and bathing is lacking, and hand washing is a luxury. It is one of the biggest problems in the Amazon, especially for the riverside population, the “ribeirinhos.” Even the most essential things are very hard to get, as says Marcos Freitas, a professor at Coppe/UFRJ and former director of the National Water Agency:
“The most basic things are missing. We are talking about simple systems, like rain collection, artesian wells, and access to chlorine.”
According to the IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics), about 60% of the Amazonas (Amazon region) population draws water from rivers, streams, lakes, or dams. That can be a huge problem, as the water is full of organic matter and heavy metals, says Patrícia Orlandi, a microbiologist, and researcher from Fiocruz.
“The water in the streams needs treatment because it has an acidic pH and heavy metals.”
In addition, the microbiologist Patrícia Orlandi warns that the waters of the Amazon River are a soup of diseases. There are rotaviruses, adenoviruses, hepatitis viruses, parasites, and bacteria. And more: even viruses that are new to science are being discovered. For example, Patrícia and colleagues found, in 2015, a virus that causes temporary paralysis in the legs and diarrhea in children up to 5 years old in the feces of children from communities in Manaus. Of the genus Gemycircularvirus, it can also cause encephalitis and kill.
“These children haven’t been able to walk for weeks because they don’t have good water.”Patrícia Orlandi
The Dangers Of The Amazon River: Bacterias Are Not The Worst
But the quality of the water is not the only problem. The Amazon River is full of dangers, so even collecting the water is a treat to live. The river is full of dangerous animals such as Stingrays buried in the bed, Piranhas, Anacondas, and even Sharks! And, of course, the worst of all: Candiru, a tiny catfish that penetrates the urethra, anus, or vagina to suck blood.
To learn more details about the dangers of the Amazon River, you should check these articles:
- What Can Kill You In The Amazon River (Would You Visit)?
- Are There Sharks In The Amazon River?
- Are There Dolphins In The Amazon River? (Pink Dolphin)
- Can You Swim in The Amazon River? (Would You?)
No less than 33% of riverside dwellers report attacks by an animal on the way between their house and the river. And the chances of being attacked are way higher for people with injuries and open wounds, as explains a resident, Maria Helena, 61 years old, who lives with his family on the banks of the Solimões River, which forms the Amazon at the confluence with the Negro.
“If we have any injuries, it really attracts piranha and candiru.”
Things Are (Slowly) Getting Better
Changing things takes time, especially in a region that, by its characteristics, is so remote and hard to access. But people are very adaptative, and the residents continuously develop creative methods to deal with the water situation.
Families invent strategies to ensure less polluted water: boiling, straining through a cloth, or putting sodium hypochlorite in water taken from the river or accumulated rain. Where there is electricity, it is also common for residents to consume water from defrosting freezers. However, despite helping a little, such practices do not eliminate disease risk.
That’s why inventions of devoted researchers are so important, like the one created by Roland Vetter. After years of research and seeing up close the problems and diseases caused by water, he invented a cleaner that runs on solar energy and disinfects water taken directly from the river.
The equipment filters the water eliminating viruses, bacteria, and parasites. Weighting only 13 kilos, Roland’s invention can purify 400 liters of water per hour. An excellent number because a relatively small device can serve many people, sometimes even entire indigenous tribes. Researchers are constantly creating new tools and solutions that are helping, but still, there is a long way to go. The following video, in Portuguese, shows Roland and his water filter solution working.
Is The Amazon River Water Drinkable? The Amazon River water is not drinkable without proper treatment. The water is considered a “soup of diseases” as it contains bacteria and microorganisms. Collecting and purifying water is one of the main challenges for the riverside population in the Amazon.
Is it safe to drink the water in the Amazon river? Drinking water straight from the Amazon river is not safe, as many infectious agents can cause diseases. The water is only suitable for human consumption after passing through a filtering process and a treatment to kill parasites and bacteria.
- Is The Amazon River Freshwater Or Saltwater? (Detailed)
- Where Is The Amazon In Brazil? (Location Guide)
- Is Rio de Janeiro In The Amazon Rainforest? (Infographic)