Minister warns of water diseases

2011-01-26 22:33

Cape Town - The massive floods that have swept across parts of the country have raised the risk of waterborne diseases such as cholera, Water Affairs Minister Edna Molewa warned on Wednesday.

The flooding had "created conditions that are conducive to the possibility of water-borne diseases like cholera", as well as animal diseases such as Rift Valley fever, she said in a statement.

Her department had already started work on an anti-cholera campaign, including "educating communities on water safety and ways of treating water".

Water affairs was also working very closely with the health and agriculture departments in this regard.

"People will be encouraged to take normal precautions in the use of water from rivers and streams of affected areas. The inoculation of livestock will also be critical."

Safe water sources

Molewa said in some parts of the country’s bridges had been washed away, and with them pipelines, cutting people's supply of safe water.

"(Our) intervention will therefore prioritise communities that have been left without safe water supply and may end up using raw, untreated water from the rivers.

"In these areas, most of which are in KwaZulu-Natal, the department will ensure the availability of potable water through tankering [sic] and also the installation of rainwater tanks."

She said an assessment of water-related infrastructure had been carried out in those parts of the country hit by flooding.

"This was with particular emphasis on water treatment works that have been flooded and are likely to threaten the quality of water."

The department was also working with the water boards in the affected areas.

"The boards will bring in their resources and expertise to assist in stabilising the situation. Where the boards operate in the different provinces, assessments have already begun."

Damage to infrastructure

The department was also assessing the cost of the floods to its own infrastructure, mainly water and dam monitoring equipment.

Molewa said she was setting aside R20m from a discretionary fund towards "the resolution of the current flood disaster".

The floods have so far claimed an estimated 70 lives, and affected 8 000 households.
Earlier on Wednesday, the government was sharply criticised for its management of the floods.

Maphaka Tau, a senior manager at the National Disaster Management Centre, told Parliament's portfolio committee on co-operative governance that the disaster had shown up weaknesses in government structures in containing the fallout from extreme weather.

Opening of sluice gates

He cited a failure to open sluice gates on the over-flowing Gariep and Vanderkloof dams - both 111% full - and a delay in opening the sluices on the Vaal Dam as an example of lack of expertise in the water affairs department.

"Somebody with a risk management understanding... would have monitored these dam levels. We would not have had a situation where the dam level comes to more than 100% and then they just leave it."

The government has defended the handling of the situation on the Vaal, saying it managed the release of water the way it did to prevent massive flood damage.

Molewa's statement made no mention of what repairs to pipelines, treatment plants and other infrastructure might cost. The department was not immediately available for comment.


- SAPA

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