News24

Dept missing at media briefing

2010-03-01 18:04

Cape Town - Amid growing concerns about the state of sewage treatment plants around the country, the department of water affairs was absent from government's infrastructure development cluster media briefing on Monday.

"Water Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica is on a state visit [to the United Kingdom] with the president... Unfortunately, we don't have anyone [else] in the room," government communications official Neo Momudu told journalists at Parliament, who had posed questions on the issue.

She apologised, and said questions raised would be forwarded to the department.

The absence of a representative from water affairs comes against a background of reports that only 32 of about 980 waste water treatment plants around the country comply with regulatory requirements for the safe discharge of treated sewage water.

Higher E. coli levels

According to a document distributed at the briefing, an amount of R195m was allocated for the 2009/10 and current financial years "for the upgrade and refurbishment of municipal waste water treatment works".

One question raised was whether this was enough to solve the problem.

It has been reported that levels of E. coli bacteria - caused by the discharge of untreated sewage - have risen dramatically in recent years in many river systems around the country.

Among other things, the briefing document states: "It must be noted that South Africa is reaching the limits of its fresh water resources and therefore a concerted effort towards water conservation is needed quite urgently."

'Major problems' at plants

The department has been sitting on a copy of a so-called "Green Drop" report for the past several months. The report contains an analysis of sewage treatment plants around the country.

In January this year, the Democratic Alliance speculated in a statement that the months-long delay in its release was "primarily due to its shocking content".

Sources within the department, who declined to be named, have confirmed to Sapa there are "major problems" at sewage treatment plants around the country.

In a written response to a question earlier this year, the department said the delay in issuing the report was due to it "finalising our consultation" with affected municipalities.

"A rushed release of this report would not do anything towards solving whatever problems must have been identified," it said at the time.