The Herald E-Edition

Wastewater treatment works a ‘national disaster’

Human Rights Commission report finds pollution violates constitution

Shonisani Tshikalange

Failing wastewater treatment works and the consequent pollution of SA’s water resources is dire and widespread, and should be declared a national disaster under the Disaster Management Act.

“The failure to properly maintain or to have a sufficient number of wastewater treatment works constructed and the consequences thereof the pollution of our rivers and dams violates section 24 of the constitution,” the SA Human Rights Commission said yesterday.

It said the cabinet should seriously consider a decision for the national government to run the water and sanitation departments of the City of Tshwane.

The commission made the recommendations while presenting its report on sewage pollution of Tshwane’s rivers and the Roodeplaat Dam.

The commission’s Gauteng manager, Buang Jones, said an inquiry took place in response to repeated complaints from residents of Hammanskraal and surrounding areas about malfunctioning wastewater treatment works spewing untreated or partially treated sewage into the Apies and Pienaars rivers, and the Roodeplaat and Leeukraal dams, within the jurisdiction of the City of Tshwane.

The commission found consumption of polluted water had been taking place at least from 2008 and the effects of such exposure on health remained undocumented.

Commissioner Ben Sibanyoni, reading the findings, said it was clear from many complaints, site visits, reports from the Magalies Water Board and information provided by the department of water and sanitation that waste water treatment works in Tshwane were malfunctioning.

“As a result, the freshwater sources — the Apies, Tolwane, Pienaar and Hennops rivers and the Roodeplaat and Leeukraal dams — are being polluted with untreated and partially treated sewage and sludge,” Sibanyoni said.

The commission also recommended that municipal managers in place during the deterioration of these facilities in the city, and who had allowed pollution to continue through failure to deliver on their statutory and constitutional obligations in terms of the Municipal Systems Act, Water Services Act and the National Water Act, be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution.

Sibanyoni said the effects of the pollution on the water, its ecosystems and the people who used the water had been devastating.

He said this was made clear by a Magalies Water Board water sample analysis last year that showed horrendous levels of faecal coliforms and E. coli.

Fauna and flora were dying or growing at an unhealthy rate, further polluting the water.

“People and animals drinking the water are vulnerable to illnesses such as bilharzia, cholera and hepatitis.

“Such exposure renders those most vulnerable, like the elderly, children and those who are ill, even more at risk of adverse health conditions,” he said.

The commission found polluted water affected groundwater and irrigation, further affecting crops and cattle which grazed on land.

“The sewage pollution means the water can no longer be used for watersports and as a tourist attraction,” Sibanyoni said.

He said the primary reason for the unacceptable levels of pollution was a failure to manage and maintain existing wastewater treatment works in the city over time.

“Failures in management which have resulted in a regression in standards of delivery include poor planning and implementation evidenced by the insufficient number of [treatment works] to accommodate the growing population in the City of Tshwane.

“The failure to properly maintain or to have a sufficient number of treatment works constructed, and the consequences thereof — the pollution of our rivers and dams — violates section 24 of the constitution, and constitutional and other legislative and regional and international law norms and standards, as set out in this report,” Sibanyoni said.

He said high levels of pollution over time had been allowed by organs of state entrusted to maintain services and prevent degradation of the environment, and water sources in particular.

“The City of Tshwane is in violation of its obligations,” he said.

Sibanyoni said it was clear from steps taken by the department of water and sanitation since 2011 that efforts had been made to prevent further pollution and to try to hold the City of Tshwane to account.

However, the city failed to comply with directives to prevent further pollution and this had resulted in the department instituting legal action in the Gauteng high court.

Sibanyoni said all parties affected by the recommendations had to respond to the commission within 60 days of receiving the report.

The commission said the issue was a nationwide problem which should be declared a national disaster.





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