District takes charge

2019-07-04 15:56
Illegal dumping has become a serious threat to environmental health in Pietermaritzburg.

Illegal dumping has become a serious threat to environmental health in Pietermaritzburg. (Moeketsi Mamane)

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uMgungundlovu will be taking over Msunduzi’s environmental health services.

This is because the City’s administration of their own environmental health services has become a “non-compliance” audit query as this function is a constitutional mandate of the district’s.

District council recently gave the green light to the transfer which will result in uMgungundlovu providing environmental health services in all its seven local municipalities.

Dr Ray Ngcobo, the district manager, said the issue was urgent as it had been raised as a non-compliance query by the office of the auditor-general in its report.

This is because uMgungundlovu is solely accountable for rendering environmental services across the district — including those that were previously carried out by the provincial department of Health — but it has been doing that in only six local municipalities.

According to a community services report, Msunduzi is performing this function outside of its legislative mandate, and therefore enforcing environmental health legislation illegally in the absence of a signed agreement allowing them to continue providing this function.

The cash-strapped district is also losing out on revenue that it could be generating for issuing licences related to environmental health and fining those who were flouting the by-laws within Msunduzi’s borders.

For audit compliance, uMgungundlovu will first sign a service level agreement with Msunduzi pending the full transfer of all the related functions. The full transfer will take longer as it also involves moving staff and allocating office space for them. There is a plan to also approach the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs to assist with the funding required for the process.

Some of the work that the district’s environmental health practitioners do includes assessing, controlling and preventing factors in the environment that can adversely affect human health.

On a monthly basis they conduct inspections to check if municipal properties, businesses and street vendors are compliant with the relevant regulations, such as the Foodstuff, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act.

They also visit schools to check for issues related to sanitation, waste and food preparation. Their work also extends to disposal of the dead by monitoring mortuaries, cemeteries and exhumations. Once the transfer from Msunduzi has been completed, the district will also be responsible for the health of the local rivers and the controversial New England Road landfill site.

The dump has been a source of embarrassment for the City which has been struggling to maintain it due to faulty machinery and staff disputes that have impacted on its operations.

In an interview with The Witness, Ngcobo said uMgungundlovu was planning to relocate the landfill away from residential areas and the CBD.

He said it had already exhausted its lifespan and its current location was deterring development in the surrounding vacant land which would be considered prime property if it was not for the pollution and regular fires at the dump.

The City’s environmental health unit is also one of the departments that is reportedly understaffed.

DA councillor Mike Bond said uMgungundlovu must set deadlines on when the transfer must be completed.

He said they must also approach the provincial and national government to assist with funding.

'An opportunity to fix things'

General manager at Duzi uMngeni Conservation Trust (Duct), Faye Brownell, and pollution control officer, Sanele Vilakazi, said environmental health was one of the local government’s critical functions.

They said whichever municipality was in charge of it must have the capacity to protect the environment and monitor anything that could have a negative impact on it.

“We are not in a position to say who must take over but we will be willing to work with whoever is in charge of environmental health in our region,” said Brownell.

GroundWork’s waste campaign manager Musa Chamane said the transfer to the district could be a step in the right direction as Msunduzi was obviously struggling with carrying out all its environmental health functions.

“It might be an opportunity to fix things that need urgent attention like the issue of the landfill site and illegal dumping. But I must emphasise that the new landfill site must not just be a dump, it must also have a recovery facility and the district must run campaigns that promote recycling across the region,” he said.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  environmental health

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