WaterCAN not surprised over Cholera outbreak linked to polluted South African rivers
Urgent action needed to prevent further cholera outbreak linked to polluted rivers in South Africa
South Africa has seen an alarming increase in cholera cases over the past few months, with 10 confirmed cases so far. However, given the state of our rivers and streams, it is likely that many cases go undiagnosed or untreated. Water activist group, WaterCAN, has called for urgent action to avoid a health epidemic that must include regular testing and reporting by municipalities.
The recent outbreak in Gauteng has been linked to the use of the Jukskei and Kliprivier rivers for baptisms. WaterCAN has conducted tests at the Klein Jukskei, which feeds into the Jukskei river, and can confirm that the water is highly polluted. The levels for E.coli were greater than 100000 colony forming units (CFU)/100ml. If people are using the rivers for drinking, swimming or baptisms this level should be zero. Such high levels of E.coli demands that there should be no human contact with the water.
“The state of our rivers and streams is completely unacceptable and we should not be in this situation. Most of the pollution comes from wastewater treatment works making government the biggest polluter of our water. It is time to hold the municipal managers accountable,” said Dr Ferrial Adam, Executive manager of WaterCAN.
Cholera is a bacterial disease that is usually spread through contaminated water. According to the World Health Organisation, cholera results in 21,000 to 143,000 deaths a year, globally. Cholera causes severe diarrhoea, vomiting and dehydration. Left untreated, cholera can be fatal.
Due to the high levels of water contamination, WaterCAN has previously called on government to test water sources regularly. Sewage pollution poses a serious risk to people’s health as it contains waterborne pathogens such as cholera, salmonella, typhoid and hepatitis. “The level of pollution is going to kill entire river ecosystems. Sewage is not only a danger to human health but also has a massive impact on the river life that is needed to have a healthy ecosystem,” said Dr Adam.
WaterCAN reiterates the need for government to prioritise the provision of safe and sustainable water sources to all communities, particularly those living in rural areas. There is an urgent need for government to invest in water treatment and sanitation infrastructure so that we can prevent outbreaks of waterborne diseases like cholera. “If urgent attention is not given to our water and sanitation systems, there will be a complete ecosystem collapse,” says Dr Adam.
On World Water Day 22 March 2023, we were reminded that access to safe and clean water is a fundamental human right. “Government is guilty of violating that right both in terms of access and the quality of the water. We should not wait for lives to be lost before we test our water and take the necessary action to protect our water, even if it means criminally charging Municipal Managers,” added Dr Ferrial Adam.
WaterCAN calls on all South Africans to demand action from government to ensure the protection of our water sources and the provision of safe and sustainable water to all communities. One case of cholera is one case too many, and we must act now to prevent further outbreaks and protect the health of our citizens.