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Joint Media Release: LHR and CER ask Ministers to address health risks posed by Northwest water quality

13 August 2014 at 12:48 pm

Children playing in Agisanang, Northwest, one of the areas where health risks from contaminated water have been reported. Photo: Ayesha Motala
Children playing in Agisanang, Northwest, one of the areas where health risks from contaminated water have been reported. Photo: Ayesha Motala
Children playing amongst the waste in Agisanang, Northwest (Photo: Ayesha Motala)

Children playing amongst the waste in Agisanang, Northwest (Photo: Ayesha Motala)

CAPE TOWN AND JOHANNESBURG.

1. On Friday, 8 August 2014, attorneys at Lawyers for Human Rights and the Centre for Environmental Rights addressed joint letters to the Ministers of Water & Sanitation, Health, and Cooperative Governance & Traditional Affairs, asking the Ministers of each of those Departments to intervene urgently to ensure the provision of clean drinking water to a number of towns in the Northwest Province in which numerous infant deaths in recent months have been linked to contaminated drinking water.

2. Three babies in the Bloemhof area, based in the Dr Ruth Segomotsi Mompati District Municipality, and at least 15 babies in the Biesiesvlei and Sannieshof areas, based in the Ngaka Modiri Molema District Municipality, have died in recent months from dehydration linked to diarrhoea and vomiting – deaths which appear to have been caused by poor quality drinking water, most likely contaminated by sewage.

3. In the Department of Water & Sanitation’s 2012 Blue Drop Report, the Dr Ruth Segomotsi Mompati district municipality ranked 9th out of 11 positions in the province, and the Ngaka Modiri Molema District Municipality was the worst performing district municipality in the province. The report contained the following warning:

 “The Department hereby issues a warning to all residents and visitors to the Ngaka Modiri Molema District Municipality area not to consume the tap water without taking appropriate measures to improve the drinking water quality. This warning is applicable to the towns of Tswaing/DeLarey, Tswaing/Sannieshof, Dinokana+Lehurutse, Kraaipan, Madibogo, Madibogopan, Motswedi+ Gopane and Setlagole.”

4. Despite this stark warning, there is no evidence that any meaningful attempts have been made by these municipalities to mitigate the risks posed by contaminated drinking water. Instead, as evidenced by the numerous infant deaths in recent months that have been linked to contaminated water, it appears that water quality in these areas may have worsened.

5. This situation constitutes a clear violation of the Constitutional rights of the residents of the affected areas to an environment that is not harmful to their health and wellbeing, and to access to water. The failings of the municipalities also potentially constitute numerous violations of national legislation, including the National Water Act, the Water Services Act, the National Environmental Management Act, and the National Environmental Management: Waste Act.

6. Lawyers for Human Rights and the Centre for Environmental Rights have asked the Ministers:

  1. To exercise their powers under the Constitution to intervene to ensure the provision of safe drinking water to residents of Biesiesvlei, Sannieshof and Bloemhof.
  2. To advise what programmes the Departments of Water & Sanitation and Health are implementing to ensure both provision of safe drinking water and mitigation of health risks posed by poor drinking water quality to residents of Sannieshof and Bloemhof, Northwest.
  3. To investigate the deaths of children reportedly caused by water contamination in the Sannieshof area. This investigation should include a pathological diagnosis of the exact cause of the deaths.
  4. To share monitoring results of surface and groundwater undertaken by the DWS over the past 6 months in these areas, and in any event also to commission independent water quality monitoring in the area.
  5. To the Minister of Cooperative Governance & Traditional Affairs, to oversee liaison between the two departments, and generally to oversee the administration of the Ngaka Modiri Molema District municipality, which is was placed in administration in July 2014. According to the Auditor-General’s report for 2012-13, Ngaka Modiri Molema District Municipality was the worst performing district; the Dr Ruth Segomotsi Mompati District Municipality regressed from an unqualified opinion with findings to a qualified opinion (p.14).

Visit our Virtual Library for key correspondence in this matter, including the joint letters referred to above.

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