Friday, 21 August 2009

South Africa's Water...

- Concerned with a cholera threat from its northern neighbour, Zimbabwe, South Africa could be overlooking a creeping water crisis of its own, as ageing infrastructure and rising demand spew potentially deadly bacteria into its water systems.

When apartheid crumbled in 1994, an estimated 14 million South Africans lacked access to a formal water supply, and about half the country - 21 million people - had no formal sanitation, according to the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF).

Since then, access to water has increased dramatically, but backlogs persist: in 2008, about 5 million people were still in need of adequate supplies, while three times more - 15 million people - lacked basic sanitation.

The quality of municipal drinking water is monitored monthly, with nearly all municipalities reporting an acceptable standard of water. However, outdated infrastructure and problems in retaining skilled staff have contributed to what DWAF admits are unacceptably high levels of pollution in some rivers and dams.

South Africa's tap water is among the best in the world, according to DWAF spokesperson Linda Page. But with millions still lacking access to flush toilets and piped water, the threat of waterborne diseases cannot be ignored, she said.

In 2008, half of the municipal water supplies surveyed in Western Cape Province, on the country's south coast, had high levels of the potentially deadly E. coli bacteria, according to a study released by the provincial DWAF.

In impoverished districts like Ukhahlamba, in neighbouring Eastern Cape Province, the problem is even more extreme. In 2008, Ukhahlamba reported levels of E. coli and other bacteria that were so high in some parts of its water supply it had been forced to issue "boil alerts" and supply water to severely affected communities by tanker trucks, according to presentations made to parliament in June.

Though E. coli can sometimes be traced back to certain industries, it is often taken as an indication that water supplies were recently contaminated with human or animal waste. That problem is being exacerbated by the first heavy rains of the 2009 season, which can wash contaminants into water systems.

Municipalities across the country have blamed poor water quality on a lack of resources and capacity that has put far too much strain on ageing water treatment plants. In 2004 South Africa had just 15,000 civil engineers, with the bulk in the private sector and only 11 percent working for local government.

A river runs through it

With its source high in the Drakensberg Mountains, the Vaal River stretches more than 1,000km to become the main tributary to South Africa's longest waterway, the Orange River. It feeds large portions of the Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan area, the country's economic heartland, as well as most of the northern Free State Province.

It has also, in some areas, registered high enough levels of faecal matter to warrant Rand Water, South Africa's largest bulk water utility, to warn that contact with the river may put people at risk of serious infection.

One of the major problems is that our system is very old - our pump station is giving us problems, almost everything is giving us problems
Every year thousands of tourists flock to the towns that dot the banks of the Vaal. In sleepy Parys, visitors make up a vital part of the local economy, but in December, when the extent of the pollution became known, the town lost about US$180,000 a week in cancellations. According to businessman Carl Cilliers, who runs a resort on the river's edge, a repeat performance could put him and his family out of business.

Local wildlife is also struggling to cope with the environmental impact. Recently, court-ordered contractors removed 20 tonnes of dead fish after a local NGO, Save the Vaal River Environment (SAVE), took the local Emfuleni municipality to court for leaking millions of litres of raw sewage into the river. SAVE said the pollution had contributed to stomach and intestinal disorders among nearby residents.

In its defence, Emfuleni municipality - well aware of its failing pumps and ageing infrastructure – argues that it lacks the finances and capacity to correct the situation.

"One of the major problems is that our system is very old - our pump station is giving us problems, almost everything is giving us problems," said Mojalefa Radebe, media relations officer at the municipality's Water Service Unit. In 2007, the municipality ran an operational deficit of about US$4 million, with an outstanding US$2 million debt to Rand Water.

1 comment:

The Connaught said...

The quality of municipal drinking water is monitored monthly, with nearly all municipalities reporting an acceptable standard of water. However, outdated infrastructure and problems in retaining skilled staff have contributed to what DWAF admits are unacceptably high levels of pollution in some rivers and dams.

Background info on our travels...Thanks Liani

There are many ways in which we can get technical about the how’s, when’s and why’s we started this journey, but ours is a story, and there's only one thing to do with a story, you tell it.

By "us", I mean 2 girls, Maria Botha and Liani Broodryk, 2 Jack Russels, Katryn and Dante on bicycles, and our amazing journey through South Africa. This is how it started:
It was one night, at a get together, surrounded by friends and family, when the reality of the moment struck. What was usually fun and games, turned stale, suddenly! Stuck in the proverbial rut! The moment was too big to ignore, so, the obvious question was, where to go from here? So as if by design, we set off to St Lucia, to new horizons, self discoveries, and a tremendous awakening.

The 'challenge' was met once we rode into Cape Town, 3 months later, after some close calls and never felt before, intense moments, we knew that this was not the end by a long shot. So, it is here, where our journey truly begins. Everyday just suddenly had a reason, and every moment counted. It was difficult, the obstacles seemed impossible, but with this came the discovery of kindness, trust, love, humbleness and courage, and the loyalty and trust of animals and nature alike.
We became aware of a whole new world, one that was so endless in it's possibilities and opportunities, we almost couldn't believe it! Threatening this world however, is ignorance and the lack of fearless leaders, ones who inspire individuals to understand and pursue their innermost truth, instead we are misguided and made to believe that war and terror is our only choice. In the midst of all this violence and outrage, is some truly amazing individuals, who have made it their life's work, to reach out to those who have lost hope, and despite efforts to promote confusion, rage, fear, distrust, the way of the world as it is told through mighty mediums, such as the media,

Since we've left St Lucia, our lives have changed dramatically. We saw that through what we were doing, and by challenging our own fears, we were starting to capture the imagination of many and soon realized that our story needs to be told. It is one worth telling, for it could very well be everybody's discovery.

Through weird coincidences, we have joined various organizations in their efforts to heal the wounded, preserve mother nature, etc.. We realize though, that what we experience first hand, could be an effective enough medium, to relay the truth about the state of our country and it's people. It's not as 'bad' as everyone fears, in fact, it's an amazing adventure, and this is how we thought it should go:
We have thought to relay our adventures on a website, which will basically contain our daily diary, pictures, video footage, live chats, etc. A wildly interactive site, aimed at showing off the beauty and diversity of our country and it's people, and at the same time, raise awareness for issues and pandemics that needs attention.