Durban’s water crisis

2014-06-11 00:00

DURBAN was plunged into a water crisis, lost a bridge, and was stuck with a repair bill of up to R5 million because of the theft of R90 worth of steel.

Responding to a theft of cable that caused the literal collapse of the water pipe in Reservoir Hills, which feeds north of Durban, experts called on eThekwini to immediately conduct an audit of its most vulnerable infrastructure, and do “whatever it takes” to protect both the power and water network currently under siege.

The official who directly runs the water network, Bhavna Soni, told The Witness that roughly “50%” of the entire workload related to thefts; that large brass water valves are stolen twice weekly, and the city has another 10 km of exposed, unguarded major pipe. Soni said 40% of the normal water supply to the area had been lost, but that smaller feeders, plus a 48-hour storage contingency, “should keep us running okay, provided that people don’t waste water and use it carefully this week — so no sprinklers; no car washing; and, please, no stockpiling of water”. However, officials told the paper it had taken a “stunning” effort by Soni and a team of around 100 workers to avoid a water disaster this week.

Yesterday, city officials revealed that the theft of just nine three-metre cables — which held the pipe’s suspension bridge over the uMgeni River — happened three weeks ago, and the bridge’s collapse this week affected residents from Durban North to King Shaka International Airport. City officials called on all residents and business owners in the region, including La Lucia and Umhlanga, to reduce water usage this week although Phoenix, kwaMashu and Ntuzuma would be most directly affected.

However, the thieves would likely be charged only with a R90 petty theft — rather than with millions in malicious damage, or even sabotage — while the National Prosecuting Authority has told the paper there have been no recent cable theft-related convictions at all in KZN.

KZN’s largest scrap franchise, Reclam, yesterday answered a challenge from The Witness to try to root out the thieves themselves – by circulating pictures of identical steel cables supplied by the paper to all of its branches, and tracing the thieves through the identity details they must supply as sellers.

Reclam security manager Ashwin Ramsaraj said: “We are ready to make an arrest right now if a certain individual returns for the Telkom [copper] cable he tried to sell us, but it’s very, very hard to identify stolen steel – but we will do whatever we can to assist.”

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