Water water everywhere, but drinking it could kill you

2 June 2014

Dumping wastewater effluents into the environment is a dangerous but very common option (Photo: Bill Harding)

Dumping wastewater effluents into the environment is a dangerous but very common option (Photo: Bill Harding)

A while back South Africa experienced the deaths of four people who were protesting about their lack of access to drinking water  (see post here).  Now we learn of the deaths of infants due to the reported contamination of a water supply by sewage – and an inordinate amount of dithering to get it fixed immediately!  All sorts of blame being passed around, some or other official suspended for having to try and cope with failing infrastructure, so on and so forth.  This is not the first such event and it definitely won’t be the last.  Back in 2008 eighty babies reportedly died as a result of a contaminated water supply.  Did the euphemistically-named “Blue Drop report of a couple of years ago not herald to the powers that be that this type of event would probably occur again?

South Africa – and here read ‘Joe Public’, needs to take a long, hard and strategically-focussed look at the issue of water quality.  Currently the country is engaged in a process of connecting more and more households to reticulated sewage systems – that are themselves connected to wastewater treatment works that operate way below acceptable standards.  This means that pollution of our water resources simply increases and concomitantly, the effort required to treat polluted water to potable (drinkable) levels.  There have been many claims that South Africa has world-class water (whatever that means) – but most of these have been soundly refuted.  Warnings to the contrary have been around for a long time and continue today.

“Access to water” is not the same as “Access to water that may be harmful to your health”.

As reported by Africa Check Mava Scott, head of communications for the department of water affairs, told Africa Check that the department’s figures show that 96.4% of households currently have “access to piped water”.  The issue of water quality is a “separate issue”, he said. 

Wow!  The bottled water industry must LOVE this type of statement.  Unfortunately, those who may be exposed to dodgy water cannot afford most things, let alone bottled water!

Shortly after this incident, polluted water was reported in the otherwise pristine Palmiet River catchment – at Grabouw!  This is tip of the iceberg stuff – pay attention South Africa!  Public organisations such as Afriforum are taking an interest and doing their own monitoring!

Some background as to why our country is in this mess can be found here.

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