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10 million people in S.African industrial heartland threatened by polluted river

By Adriana Stuijt     Nov 29, 2008 in Environment
South Africa's Vaal river -- the only fresh-water source for 10-million people in the country's industrial heartland - is so polluted you can walk across the sewerage waste...' warned a water-engineer this week.
The private Rand Water company manager/engineer Francois van Wyk warns this week that the worst pollution comes from the many thousands of tons of raw human sewage being dumped by municipalities along the river course.
The latest e-coli (Escherichia-coli, human fecal bacteria) count at the Vaal river barrage near Parys shows the highest count, with a whopping 1-million units per 100mF of water were measured. The safe international maximum is 10,000 units per 100mF of water. Read the Afrikaans news report here:
The thousands of vacancies for municipal water-engineers urgently need to be filled by qualified people he warns - or the country will face a humanitarian disaster of vast proportions.
The Vaal river is the only fresh-water source for more than 10-million SA residents -- who live in its most densely-populated province of Gauteng -- the country's industrial heartland around the goldmines of Johannesburg. And estimated 3-million foreign Africans also have settled there from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and other African countries such as Nigeria and Somalia. South Africa has a total indigenous population of 48-million.
This is the second dire warning sounded within just a week - and both from top water-experts in their field, both warning that 'a humanitarian disaster of vast proportions' was just around the corner for South Africa because of its filthy water.
The Vaal river, warned van Wyk yesterday, has become so polluted, 'you can walk across the sewerage waste...' He aired his warnings at this week's Environ conference at Warmbaths, hosted by the government's SA Water Research Commission.
Van Wyk said he also stood 100% behind the country's top-water engineer, Dr Anthony Turton, who was 'suspended' from the country's top research institute, the Centre of Scientific and Industrial Research, for issuing identical warnings -- for the entire country. He warned that even the aquifers are now getting polluted with human feces and industrial waste -- and that the country's low rainfall simply isn't enough to wash it all away again as it used to do... Read that report here
Van Wyk has also advised the organisers of the Emerald Challenge open-water swimming championships in the Vaal river to postpone it, only a day before it was to start, warning that the water was dangerously polluted and far too unsafe. He said that many people living around the Vaal river are now calling in at non-governmental environmental groups, reporting that they falling ill from gastric ailments and that many fishes also suddenly started dying this month.
Van Wyk warns that nearly all the municipalities along the river are now dumping their raw sewerage straight into the water, untreated. Added to this lethal mix of many tons of human feces and urine, are the millions of tons of salty and chemical waste runoff from the mines and industries along the Klipriver - and which feeds into the Vaal.
People and animals will soon start dying...
Van Wyk warns that people and animals will soon start dying from the river of sewerage and chemical waste.
He pointed out that more than 60% of all the country's municipalities no longer had any qualified engineers for their purification plants and that more than 3,000 engineering posts are vacant.
"Their water-purification plants are collapsing and 63% of all the municipalities tell Rand Water that they are now 'uncertain about the safety' of their drinking water.
"People's health will start deteriorating very drastically if we don't intervene most urgently,' he warned. Those vacant posts needed to be filled urgently 'with qualified engineers' to stave off a major humanitarian disaster.
Thousands of people falling ill from the water...
Environmentalist campaigner Thomas du Toit, who chairs the Save the Vaal Environment (SAVE), confirmed that his NGO and other environmental groups are being overwhelmed by thousands of calls from people living around the Vaal river barrage.
"They are falling ill all the way downstream to the town of Parys after ingesting the Vaal river water from municipal sources."
The shallow Vaal River system starts in the eastern highveld plains, in the vicinity of Ermelo. On its course to the Vaal Dam, built in 1937, a number of other sidestreams join the Vaal River. And the Vaal dam is the sole source of fresh water for Gauteng residents.
More about Vaal river gauteng, Cholera, Typhoid, Ecoli, Ten-million people gauteng
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