Water quality can be sickening

28 December 2012

One of the pervasive water quality themes apparent from the news media during 2012 has been the increasing awareness of the economic losses associated with polluted rivers and lakes.  In the developed world, this aspect continues to override public concerns about health-related water quality issues, an aspect more obvious in the daily lives of those for whom simply sourcing water is a struggle.  These worlds are poles apart, despite the technological advances and abilities of modern water treatment engineering.

A report from the Ndola region of Zambia indicates that the poor quality of piped water supplies has forced the local inhabitants to have to resort to long treks to collect water from boreholes or streams.  The problem appears to be acknowledged by the authorities, yet it persists.

Every morning, Bridget Sichinsambwe, 44, a Ndola resident gathers her three children before they can walk down some six kilometres to fetch drinking water at a nearest bore hole in the industrial area.  Despite having water readily supplied to her home by Kafubu Water and Sewerage Company, Bridget, knows this is the only way she can ensure that her family has clean drinking water that she is convinced will be safe to consume.

Bridget and her family stopped drinking water from the taps two years ago after her children began suffering from stomache and vomiting due to the state of the water.

Kafubu Water and Sewerage says it is aware about the challenges being brought about by old infrastructure which is compounded by the river’s receipt of semi treated sewer and other effluent coming from the industries. The company planning and development manager admits that the sewer treatment plant is not functioning well.

Across the world in Los Angeles County, a place that Bridget and her children have probably never heard of (but maybe they don’t need to), urban pollution from unmanaged stormwater has become a big health issue:

Researchers found urban runoff sickens 640,000 to 1.4 million people who visit L.A. and Orange County beaches each year. Mostly, swimmers come down with diarrhea, sore throats and pink eye. Those at highest risk are children, the elderly and pregnant women.

Then there’s the economic impact. Businesses lose money when beaches are closed. People visiting beaches in both counties generate about $3.5 billion in expenditures during about 129 million trips each year, the county reported citing a study in the Journal of Environmental Management.

So the county is proposing the Clean Water, Clean Beaches initiative, which will raise $275 million a year by charging 2.2 million parcels in the county a fee. A single-family home would pay about $54 a year; a big-box would pay $15,000.

In South Africa, we learn with dismay that prospecting for doubtful quantities of minerals seems likely to go ahead in the Moutonshoek Valley, upstream of the Verlorenvlei RAMSAR site.  All sorts of skulduggery seems to be associated with ventures such as this.  In the Kerala state of India, the very future of the Sasthamcotta Lake, also a RAMSAR site, has been placed in jeopardy by a draw down of natural water levels as a result of sand mining.

The water level change has resulted in the surrounding wetlands becoming less effective, as well as releasing nutrients bound up therein.  Nutrient levels in the lake are rising and eutrophication, with algal blooms, now poses a previously unheard of threat to this beautiful waterbody.

Deep in the sweltering heat of Zambia, Bridget has no time in her day to dwell on the eventual impacts of these scenarios – her each and every day is completely taken up by the need to survive.  On the American Californian coast, lifestyle needs drive interests of those who simply open a tap in their house to fill a glass of water – a process that takes Bridget most of her day.  In India, yet another important wildlife refuge has become threatened and may never recover, due to the greedy and short-sighted interests of a few.

And, bizarrely, here in South Africa, we have a president who believes that compassion for animals [dogs in this case] is “not African”.

And “man” is equated with “intelligent” life??


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