City to unmask stench

2016-01-26 06:00
The Blomvlei canal which flows past the Vygieskraal informal settlement is heavily polluted, especially after the festive season. The burnt wreckage of a car was also found among the debris.  PHOTO: Earl Haupt

The Blomvlei canal which flows past the Vygieskraal informal settlement is heavily polluted, especially after the festive season. The burnt wreckage of a car was also found among the debris. PHOTO: Earl Haupt

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With the stench hanging in the air, it is hard to ignore the extent of pollution in the Blomvlei canal at the Vygieskraal informal settlement.

Continuous dumping of garbage, night soil and excess sewerage which has leaked into the canal has led to many cases of diarrhoea and dysentery. Two cases of typhoid have been reported since November.

Various constituencies in the City of Cape Town sat down at an emergency forum to address the issue at Vygieskraal last week.

Due to the health risk the overpolluted canal currently poses, the City’s cleansing department could not be deployed into the canal directly and instead relied on heavy mechanical equipment to lift and remove the large amount of debris in the canal.

A burnt out car wreck was found nearby and needed a crane to be removed.

Magadien Davids, councillor for ward 48, says this is the worst state the canal has been in during his time as the area’s councillor, but he concedes that the extended festive break, when the City’s cleaning and maintenance staff were away, allowed the rubbish to pile up.

Davids says a revised awareness campaign will need to be rolled out to advise residents of the harm they are causing themselves when they resort to illegal dumping.

“We need to talk to the residents of Vygieskraal informal and formal settlements to re-educate them not to throw their rubbish or their faeces into the canal. That poses a health risk to everyone in the area, even the people who visit the area.

“The people in the area are quite nice people; it is the visitors who come here and do their illegal dumping over here.”

Davids confirms that a more intensified approach to monitoring the levels of pollution in the canal will be adopted.

“I will sustain this on a monthly basis and from here I will get the cleaning department with the officials to back me up to get this canal back to where it is supposed to be.”

Sophia Barends, a community worker in Vygieskraal, says children are most affected by the pollution and that, combined with the extreme heat, has caused quite a few people to end up in hospital with severe dehydration caused by diarrhoea.

“There are still two in hospital; one came out of hospital last week and another one is lying in bed with diarrhoea. The toilets and the canal are the issue. The people are throwing their dirt in the canal at night and their bins. When they don’t empty their bins on a Monday, they then throw it into the canal at night,” says Barends.

She says that because of the holidays, the portable toilets were not cleaned in December and a few of the toilets were thrown into the canal after overflowing with raw sewerage.

“The City must close the canal. Put a concrete slab over the canal,” she says. 

Wilmot James, the DA’s shadow minister of health, was called into the emergency meeting to help find better solutions. He says it still boils down to the residents’ behaviour and attitude towards pollution.
“What is needed is an innovation and I have asked the City’s officials to talk to us about those innovations, because the City’s engineers have been working out and finding a device that makes it very difficult for people to dump into the canal. The fences don’t work, because the people dismantle them.”
He says he is happy that the City’s engineers have a plan and has also explored the idea of whether the canal could be closed without impacting the flow of the stream.
“What has to happen is intensive monitoring and surveillance.”
He says with the current forum in place to deal with the issue, there will be a better system in place to ensure the canal stays clean while fostering a better working relationship with the community in order for them to stop dumping their waste.
“With problems like this, we all just need to be really alert in responding and we are doing our very best to do so,” he says.

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