River polution

2008-01-08 00:00

Lack of access to clean and potable water is a global problem. One billion people worldwide do not have it. It is therefore unsurprising that millions die from waterborne diseases every year.

While in the First World water is a fluid that comes out of a tap in the kitchen or bathroom, for many people in the Third World — and locally that means parts of the Msunduzi catchment area — water has to be collected from a stream or a river and carried to the homestead.

It is in such conditions that pollution occurs in times of rainy weather. But it is only when a major sporting event such as the Hansa

Powerade Dusi Marathon is endangered by a faecal bacterial count of up to 26 000 parts per 100 millilitres (13 times more than the acceptable level) that the situation hits the headlines.

The race is obviously important as one of the major annual events that places Pietermaritzburg on the sporting map and which, as such, is a significant money-spinner for the city. The organisers have already put in place a Plan B providing for a start lower down the river where the contamination will be less if the traditional start of Camps Drift is not possible. So it is unlikely that, whatever happens, the race will not go ahead.

But the state of pollution is of only brief concern to the relatively few people involved in the Dusi Marathon. It is of permanent concern to a vastly greater number of people who live in the valley and who are obliged to use the river on a daily basis. For them, such levels of pollution are entirely unacceptable.

The municipality cannot escape its health and social obligations. What has been done with the R10 million which it was reportedly allocated to deal with the situation? It needs to protect a money-spinner but, far more, it needs to meet the needs of the poor in providing both potable water and appropriate sewage disposal.

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