Sewage-polluted streets plague community

Samora Machel township in Cape Town is badly polluted.
Samora Machel township in Cape Town is badly polluted.

The community of Samora Machel, situated close to Philippi in the Western Cape, has grown from just 400 houses in the 1990s, to a community with a huge housing backlog, facing an environmental nightmare caused by an erratic drainage system.

Residents live in sewage and polluted wetlands and ponds. Thembilizwe Tyokwana, who has been living next to the wetland with his family for a number of years, said the smell from the wetland was so bad at night it could suffocate a person.  

A home for mosquitoes

“The place was clean before, but when the drains started bursting in every street we saw where the toilet water was going. The area gets cleaned by the municipality when reeds grow a bit higher. It looks frightening at night with frogs everywhere. In summer the place becomes a home for mosquitoes,” he told Health-e. 

According to Xolisa Bangani, an environmental and water science master’s student at the University of the Western Cape, contaminated wetlands and ponds have a negative impact on the environment. “Raw sewage introduces unwanted, potentially pathogenic bacteria such as Escherichia coli [known as E. coli] which can cause septic shock, urinary tract infections, meningitis and food poisoning in humans.

"E. coli is just one example of a pathogen that sewage can introduce in an environment, amongst many others,” Bangani explained. "Sewage in a pond or wetland in an area attracts flies and other carrier agents that can transport the bacteria from the pond to food, houses and people," he added.

According to the World Health Organisation, contaminated water and poor sanitation are linked to diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea and dysentery. Inadequately managed water and sanitation services put people at risk of preventable illnesses. 

Residents continuously report the over-flooded drains to the City of Cape Town, but there doesn’t seem to be a permanent solution. According to resident Nosiviwe Gwabeni, children playing next to the open damp area that is filled with dirty water are a common sight as the City of Cape Town doesn’t regularly clean the pond.

Sewage disrupts the ecosystem

The mother of two said she noticed that her children developed a rash after playing with the smelly, dirty water. “I don’t blame the community for throwing rubbish there because our bin collection is also irregular, we never know when it will be collected and we can’t stay with dirty bins and water as well. The city needs to respond because this is bad for our children,” she said. 

According to the City of Cape Town’s five-year Integrated Development Plan for 2017-2020, 99,7% of informal settlements have door-to-door refuse removal services. The remaining 0,3% are areas that are “not accessible”.  Bangani warned that this situation could contaminate the water table — the level below the surface of the ground where water can be found. 

“Sewage shouldn’t be disposed in wetlands and ponds, even if there are no people living close by. This is because the sewage will disrupt the ecosystem and change its characteristics and [ultimately] its functions,” he explained.

Bangani said there were possible solutions that could be taken. “The drains can be relocated to outside residential areas so that when they overflow, it does not negatively affect people. The city needs a more adequate sewerage drain system that doesn’t overflow when it rains,” he added.

- Health-e News 

Image credit: iStock

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