By Sameera Casmod
4 July 2023 | 00:00 CAT
2 min read
The Gauteng High Court has found that the broken treatment plants allowing the flow of waste into the Vaal River are an infringement of environmental acts.
Senzo Mchunu, the Minister of Water and Sanitation, was given 45 court days to outline measures to inhibit the violation of the National Environmental Management Act 107 of 1998 (NEMA) and the National Water Act 36 of 1998 (NWA).
Professor Mike Muller, a WITS water expert, stated that the poor management and maintenance of sewage works in Emfuleni municipality over a long period contributed to the current situation. Muller asserted that interventions to fix long-standing problems would take time because much work is needed. The issue extends beyond the treatment works, as sewage has been flowing into the river due to malfunctioning equipment.
The challenges in fixing the issue include difficulties starting construction, difficulties with community members trying to find employment, and limited resources. Professor Muller emphasised the need to repair community and organisational aspects of the project, which, he states, is underway.
Regarding the extent of the pollution in the Vaal River system, Professor Muller clarified that Gauteng and surrounding areas source water from the Vaal Dam (which is cleaner) and not from the section of the Vaal River near Emfuleni that is currently in need of repair.
Regarding concerns about the outbreak of water-borne diseases such as cholera, Professor Muller clarified that these outbreaks are not primarily caused by pollution from dysfunctional waste treatment works. Instead, cholera is often transmitted from person to person because of poor hygiene practices and limited access to clean water for basic personal hygiene. While proper wastewater treatment remains crucial, Professor Muller highlighted the importance of focusing on handwashing and personal responsibility in preventing the spread of cholera.
Professor Muller acknowledged the complexities involved in the government’s repair of the wastewater treatment. Limited resources, including funding and skilled personnel, pose significant challenges. The optimal utilisation of available resources and strategically targeting areas in urgent need is crucial. Professor Muller suggested that directing efforts towards Standerton and Emfuleni, where the impact is more significant, could yield better results.
Professor Muller’s interview highlighted the urgent need for comprehensive measures to address South Africa’s wastewater management challenges. It is essential to rectify the technical aspects, community and organisational factors for sustainable solutions. As efforts continue, individuals are encouraged to prioritise domestic and personal hygiene to protect themselves while awaiting municipal repairs. The government’s response and allocation of resources will play a vital role in determining the success and timeliness of resolving these issues.
Listen to the full interview on Your World Today with Junaid Kharsany here.