'It's a terrible situation' - Khayelitsha residents raise health concerns after floods wreak havoc

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For the past several months, residents of Khayelitsha have had their streets flooded due to broken and faulty drainage and pipeline systems.
For the past several months, residents of Khayelitsha have had their streets flooded due to broken and faulty drainage and pipeline systems.
PHOTO: Supplied
  • The Social Justice Coalition says the metro hasn't been able to adequately assist residents across Cape Town.
  • The city has been hit by heavy downpours, strong winds and waves of up to six metres in recent weeks.
  • The recent floods have caused broken and faulty drainage and pipeline systems.

Activists from the Social Justice Coalition (SJC) have raised concerns about informal settlements affected by flooding in Cape Town.

According to the organisation, a recent storm, coupled with the legacy of faulty stormwater drains, caused massive flooding in homes, with residents of informal settlements hardest hit.

SJC member Nkosikhona Swartbooi said the City of Cape Town has been unable to adequately assist formalised residential areas across the city.

"For this year's round of assistance from the City, officials suggested that community members who have flooded homes in informal settlements use sandbags to mitigate the floods. Included in their response to the crisis people found themselves in, was the reminder that they should have not been staying in those areas in the first place," Swartbooi said.

He said contingency plans should have been put in place.

"City officials should have had a contingency plan to assist in the yearly disaster we all expected and anticipated. But worse – it was said by officials [who] should be aware of the circumstances that force people to live in flood-prone areas in the first place," he added.

READ MORE | Some informal settlements in Cape Town without water during Covid-19, says SJC

Over the past few weeks, Cape Town has been hit by heavy downpours, strong winds and waves of up to six metres. The storms have caused floods that have affected more than 6 000 people in the Cape Town metro alone.

The affected areas in the City of Cape Town are Khayelitsha, Gugulethu, Philippi, Mfuleni, Langa, Masiphumelele, Dunoon, Strand and Hout Bay.

Streets flooded due to broken and faulty drainage
For the past several months, residents of Khayelitsha have had their streets flooded due to broken and faulty drainage and pipeline systems.

For the past eight to 10 months, residents of Khayelitsha have had their streets flooded due to broken and faulty drainage and pipeline systems.

Countless residents have reported the issues to the SJC after getting very little response from the municipality, they have claimed.

Now the SJC has raised concerns about the health of residents.

"Last year, we had an influx of residents complaining about the increase in illnesses in their children. These ranged from minor to major health problems their children and the elderly were developing," he said.

In response to the SJC's claims, the City's Disaster Risk Management spokesperson Charlotte Powell said the plight of many communities residing near stormwater infrastructure, wetlands, flood plains or trapped low-lying areas can't be remedied through engineering measures.

"The situation would have been much worse were it not for the seasonal risk reduction measures that were implemented before the onset of winter. Many potential crisis situations were also averted through the co-ordinated joint actions of City departments to address problems, clear blockages, remove solid waste dumped in stormwater systems, and remedy faults on wastewater systems," she said.

Khayelitsha Development Forum (KDF) chairperson Ndithini Tyhido said residents have been adversely affected by the recent cold weather.

"The main problem is the drainage system in Khayelitsha. Before the storm, every drain has burst open with faeces flowing and dirt flowing around. We have a bit of sunlight, but some homes are still drenched in water. It's a terrible situation."

Tyhido said there is no sign of clear preventative measures to deal with floods in informal settlements.

'Reality on the ground'

"The City can't tell us what the plan is. Khayelitsha is a large township in Cape Town. Unfortunately, we have a high concentration of informal shack dwellings, which makes us prone to flooding," he said.

Malusi Booi, the City's mayoral committee member for human settlements, said the City has helped thousands of residents, many of who live in informal settlements, following the flooding.

"The SJC ignores the reality on the ground, which is that in the majority of low-lying newly established informal settlement areas, the unlawful occupation has happened in totally unsuitable land such as in dams, water detention ponds, on slopes of nature reserve land and on road reserves," Booi said.

Xanthea Limberg, mayoral committee member for water and waste services, said the City's sewage pump stations near some recently unlawfully occupied areas have been compromised due to vandalism.

"Two-hundred-and-sixteen million litres of water [were] delivered to newly established settlements, formed prior to the pandemic, among others, as part of the City's Covid-19 temporary emergency services (sic). These communities don't have access to normal services because they have unlawfully occupied land where there are technical or legal constraints to development," Limberg said.

Meanwhile, Zahid Badroodien, the City's mayoral committee member for community and health services, said the City's Environmental Health Services conduct routine weekly inspections in all informal areas to identify and report any issues that may affect the health of residents. He said this was part of its monitoring and evaluation role.

"Cape Town's peak diarrheal season usually spans between November and May – outside the winter period when localised flooding occurs. The wet winter season is often associated with colds and flu and health facilities often see more cases linked to upper respiratory infections and other non-communicable diseases," he said.

"In terms of overall communicable disease trends, Khayelitsha does not present worse off in comparison to the rest of the city. This can be partly attributed to the positive impacts of scaled up health and hygiene interventions to raise community awareness in terms of preventative measures, reporting of service delivery problems and ongoing departmental monitoring and evaluation visits and rapid referral of basic service-related problems on the ground," he added.

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