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South Africa asked to declare state of emergency over dangerous water pollution

By Adriana Stuijt     Dec 5, 2008 in Environment
South Africa's largest commercial farmers' union yesterday urged the acting-president to declare a national emergency over the country's dangerously-polluted fresh water resources.
In a joint meeting with the commercial banking and farming sector and South Africa's acting-president Kgalema Motlanthe, the government was warned if fresh-water streams, dams and lakes were not cleaned up urgently, the country would soon plunge into an unprecedented humanitarian and economic crisis.
The parliamentary joint working group meeting with South Africa's commercial community and the acting president was called after the country's top water-research expert, Dr Anthony Turton of the state-funded Council for Scientific and Industrial Research warned last week that South Africa was facing very rapid socio-economic collapse due to the heavily polluted South African fresh-water resources.
He warned that all its fresh water supplies now were so heavily polluted with human excrement and waste from some 80,000 overcrowded squatter camps, chemical waste from the country's thousands of industries and mines that South Africa's very low rainfall was unable to wash it clean any longer. Even the aquifers were getting polluted. An urgent cleanup was needed - and the farmers urged the president to start with the countrywide cleanup by hiring 'competent municipal engineers' instead of unqualified ANC-cronies to repair the 181 broken municipal water-purification plants countrywide.
This massive breakdown of the country's water purification systems was mainly due to to the fact that more than 9,000 municipal posts fell vacant after some 80% of the country's most qualified engineers emigrated since 1994 after losing their jobs due to the ANC government's black-economic empowerment laws. Turton, initially suspended from the state-run Council for Science and Industrial Research for telling the truth in his report, has since resigned.
He warns in his document that due to the fact that South Africa gets so little rainfall, as does all of southern Africa; and also now is rapidly polluting with feces and chemicals all of its scarce water-resources - the 'dilution factor' -- washing pollutants from the water with the country's less than 450mm annual rainfall -- no longer exists.
The chemical and fecal waste levels have simply become far too high in SA open-water supplies to still get cleaned up by any annual rains. Even crocodiles - creatures with the oldest and best immune systems on the planet -- are now dying of this pollution, by eating fishes who are dying from it in the Crocodile river at the Kruger National Wildlife Park. read here.
Declare a national emergency, farmers urge president:
Yesterday, the country's largest commercial farmers' union urged acting-president Kgalema Motlanthe to declare a national emergency over the water crisis. Its chairman, Ben Marais, who represents about 13,000 Afrikaans-speaking farmers in the Transvaal Agricultural Union (TLU) warned that emergency measures were needed to assure that consumers' health would not be endangered from crops being contaminated by the country's heavily-polluted water.
The farmers had already launched their own plans to purify their fresh-water before irrigation individually - but the municipal purification plants needed to be repaired urgently, and above all, the 9,000 open engineering posts needed to be filled with qualified engineers, they warned.
Famine growing
The country's commercial farmers also warned in an earlier report to the president that there are just not enough commercial farmers left in the country to produce enough food for the entire 48-million strong population - and that this will plunge South Africa into an unprecedented famine. Staple food prices have more than tripled because it has to be imported from as far afield as Canada and Australia, causing a huge foreign-currency drain on the national treasury. There were 85,000 commercial farmers in SA in 1994 when it was still a food-exporting country, now only this handful of commercial farmers is left - farming on less than one percent of the entire land surface.
"At our recent annual congress, speaker after speaker raised the tenuous situation of South Africa’s commercial farming sector, the deterioration and pollution of South Africa’s water supply, the alarming loss of topsoil, the desertification of South Africa’s already meager arable land and the loss of farms and farmers as a result of the government’s discredited land redistribution policy," Mr Marais warned.
"At a time when food and the environment are the top concerns of the world body, what situation does agriculture find itself in after nearly 15 years of ANC rule? "
The most important role of the president is to feed the people...
"The most important role of the president is to feed the people – food is the absolute basic need, and without the knowledge, expertise and dedication of South Africa’s commercial farming sector, no future president will survive. "This may sound drastic, but then hunger is drastic and food riots and shortages can and do bring down governments. "Thus, a halt must be immediately made to the government’s ill-fated land redistribution program. (Read here for results of this programme:) He warned that this programme 'benefits no-one - even those whom the government believed would vote for it if they received productive farms for free, are already disillusioned with the plan and will not support a government which cannot feed them."
Farmers can't get loans for next season's crop:
Politicians, bankers and economists all bombarded the acting-president with identical dire warnings yesterday -- with one banker noting rather mildly that ''South Africa was entering a very difficult economical era."
Marais pointed out that with the world's trust in the SA economy evaporating very rapidly now, the farmers also will face more difficulty in finding production loans, or even getting bank overdrafts to put in next season's crop. He also called on farmers to husband their finances carefully: "Farmers now need to reduce their debt, or even pay their debts in full and to continue farming without debts.'
International clean-water standards must be maintained:
Marais asked the acting president to 'ensure that SA's health standards will not be compromised' by the dangerous water conditions. "Compliance with international standards must be activated in good time to ensure that foreign trade is not hampered,' he said.
Water affairs minister becomes militant about 'theft of water'
Meanwhile the country's Water affairs minister Lindiwe Hendricks has decided to go to war with the commercial businesses who have contracts with the government to buy river water for their enterprises. She blames farmers and businesses for the atrocious condition of the country's rivers and streams.
She has become very militant about it, personally travelling around in her blue-light motorcade to issue summonses to businesses and farmers for 'stealing water from the rivers' - even when they have all the necessary permits.
The Afrikaans-language Volksblad journalist Frans Coetzee reported from Douglas in the Northern Cape two weeks ago that Hendricks was ' furious ' when she saw how six small local diamond-mine concessioneers had, according to the water affairs minister, been 'illegally sucking water from the Vaal River.'
The journalist writes that the ANC-minister clearly took this alleged water-theft as a personal affront. She was described as being 'horrified, angry and dismayed' during her flash-inspection of six diamond-diggings north of Kimberley -- and ordered the regional head of the water affairs department Louis Snyder to read the riot act to Pico Diamonds company's manager Philip Pikwane while she stood by, arms folded angrily.
"This mine is making a neat profit because they are also not paying taxes, besides stealing water. This is intolerable,' the minister said - ordering all mining to stop within two days.
Last week Hendricks also targeted a farm in Limpopo where a farmer was 'stealing' water by creating an earthen dam where he first purified the water from the (dangerously-polluted) Crocodile river before irrigating his crops.
She said nothing about the pollution, which is killing of the river's aquatic life including its world-famous crocodiles. The minister was irate only about the farmer 'stealing river water' and ordered front-end loaders brought in to destroy the impromptu purification dam. And last Friday, she inspected four other mines in the Northern Cape and ordered them all closed down. However while Hendricks is blaming private businesses for all of the country's water-woes, the underlying pollution problems raised by Dr Turton are not being addressed. Instead, he was fired for speaking up. Read story here.
[Individual drinking-water filter:
With South Africans reporting countrywide that they are also increasingly suffering from a vast variety of stomach and intestinal ailments due to the dangerous quality of their municipal drinking water - help is on the horizon from tiny little Denmark. Danish businessman/engineer, Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen, has developed the Life Straw Water Purifier -- an individual drinking straw about the size of a drinking glass which the company now delivers without profit to third-world communities through the Jimmy Carter Charity Centre in the USA.
Several South African charities have also placed orders for the straws, which even filters out cholera fibrio and all the water-parasites. The Carter Center has already distributed them to 23-million people in third-world communities to prevent water-borne infections in individuals. Each straw's filter lasts a year. See here.
More about Cholera, Dangerous water pollution, State emergency, Humanitarian economic crisis
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