The sewage flows into the Vaal River. File photo of Delwyn Verasamy
That anger has been detected in contaminated wastewater Vaal River not surprising, according to a water expert.
civic Organizations, AfriForum and Save Ngwathe, said water samples taken from the River Vaal at Parys in the Free State on Tuesday had tested positive for cholera. An accredited laboratory took the water samples in different places under the supervision of a water specialist, they saying.
“The first water sample taken at the outlet of the Parys waterworks was not contaminated with cholera. The second water sample taken from a residential house in Parys tested negative for cholera but was infected with E. coli.
“The third water sample was taken from the Vaal River, approximately 10m downstream of a manhole that has been discharging sewage into the river for some time. It is this same water sample that is contaminated with cholera and E. coli. It is extremely worrying that the Vredefort water extraction point is only 1 km from the wastewater discharge. It is precisely in Vredefort that there are also confirmed cases of cholera and where a resident died from this virus.”
The sampling results “further prove that the Vaal River is indeed infected with cholera. There are several places where raw sewage flows into the river due to infrastructure burning out or simply not being available, load cuts and the fact that there is no emergency assistance like generators or emergency pumps.”
By Friday morning, 21 people had died in the cholera outbreak in Hammanskraalnorth of Pretoria and another in the Free State.
highly contagious disease
craig sheridanthe Claude Leon Foundation Chair for Water Research and director of the Center for Water Research and Development at the Faculty of Geography, Archeology and Environmental Studies at the University of Wits, said that the transmission mechanism for cholera is through matter contaminated feces.
“It is a highly contagious disease. Basically, if you are using a toilet system and you have cholera, your poop enters the toilet system and goes to the sewage treatment plant. It’s not news to any of us that you’re not necessarily going through the Residual water treatment plantwhatever that treatment plant is, but you’re diverting it right into the river,” Sheridan said.
“We all know that this is the case. Some of the floors are totally non-functional. We know because we have the green drop report. If the treatment plants are down, any fecal matter that gets into them leaks out and makes its way into rivers, which means that any of these disease-causing viruses or bacteria are also seeping through the systems.”
Sheridan lives in an area slightly north of Parktown in Johannesburg.
“We often see the sewers overflow. So, they get blocked, they overflow, and they go into the stormwater system and the stormwater system goes right into the river, so it’s the same story.
“There is raw fecal matter that gets into rivers directly through wastewater treatment systems or through leaking sewer systems and blocked sewer systems. It really doesn’t matter where we are anymore, this is affecting all of us equally…whether you’re a poor person in Hammanskraal or a really rich person in Sandton.”
However, Sheridan said the risk to human health of having cholera in rivers “is not as high as people think” because it is raw water, which is extracted and treated for drinking.
“We know Rand Water is working or else we’d all be sick… What we’re having is a recontamination problem in the freshwater system somewhere or we’re having a person-to-person transmission problem somewhere. My gut feeling is that it’s both at this point,” Sheridan said, noting, however, that he doesn’t have the data to back up those theories.
Those downstream communities that depend on the Vaal River for drinking water “have to worry about cholera,” he said. “He the answer is a teaspoon of unscented bleach – Jik – in 20 liters of water. If you do that, your water will be safe to drink. It’s literally that simple.”
The water must first be boiled for at least a minute, but if you don’t have electricity how the hell do you boil water? This is the complex interaction that is taking place right now. So each of these systems isn’t particularly hard to run, it’s not hard to treat water to make it drinkable, it’s not hard to purify wastewater to discharge limits, but when all the systems start failing at the same time and in the same place, this is the consequence: that people die.
“A lot of people are dying and they don’t have to,” Sheridan said, explaining how “a teaspoon of bleach can save your life. It is the message that we must convey to everyone.”
According to AfriForum and Save Ngwathe, the department of water and sanitation (DWS) must “actively intervene”.
A video provided by Save Ngwathe’s Karien Viljoen in the sewer in question appears to show blood even coming out. DWS and the municipality are aware of this sewer overflow, civic organizations said.
They called on residents of all villages in the local Ngwathe municipality not to drink tap water before boiling it. “I sincerely hope that the authorities, and especially the DWS, realize the vital importance of this problem and intervene in the incompetent municipality.”
Viljoen told the mail and guardian how the area had long struggled with poor water quality.
“They don’t maintain the sewage works, the sewage is now flowing into the Vaal River, not since today, not for a week, for many years. It’s unbearable. It’s not just in the sewage works, it’s in the community, in their homes, in people’s living areas.”
Local residents, he said, are careful to use municipal water.
“If you are poor and you have to buy water or food, you will get any source of water and then you will buy food because your stomach is the loudest. The people here are very anxious because not everyone can buy water, buy chemicals to treat the water. It is not your responsibility, it is the responsibility of the politicians at this stage and that is the problem, the politicians only think of themselves, they do not think of anyone else”.
Wisane Mavasa, a DWS spokesman, said the Vaal River is a source of raw water. “So, as a department, what we encourage members of the public to do is make sure they don’t drink untreated water, and if they are, they’re suspicious of the water, that it’s not of good quality, they should follow the guidelines of the health department. to ensure it meets potable standards.”
His department, he said, recognized the fact that the state of local government water services is dire.
“The deficiencies are the result of poor governance and the institutional capacity of those municipalities, so we are exploring what we are exploring now. Yesterday (at the National Ministerial Symposium on Sustainability of the Water Sector), we met with water experts from other countries (Denmark and Kenya) to brainstorm and share ideas on how they are doing in their countries.
“This is so that we can see if these are things that we can do as South Africa, things that we can adopt and also in terms of reforms, to inform policy amendments and, where possible, legislative reforms, in terms of giving it more strength to be able to enter where necessary to save lives as the situation in Hammanskraal dictates.”
This story will be updated if feedback is received from the local Ngwathe municipality.