Disaster management & local government oversight: MECs & WC Disaster Management Input
Adhoc Committee on Covid-19 (WCPP)
13 May 2020
Chairperson: Ms M Wenger (DA)
Video: Ad Hoc Committee on Covid-19, 13 May 2020, 13:00
The Ad-Hoc Standing Committee on Covid-19 (WCPP) was briefed by the Western Cape Disaster Management and the Department of Environmental Affairs on the impact of the pandemic on the province, and the way in which the challenges were being addressed.
The Western Cape MEC for Local Government said the Department had supplemented the water supply for vulnerable communities in the form of water tanks. However, they remained concerned regarding the continued humanitarian crisis that had arisen as a result of the lockdown, as people could not work and gain an income, while food security across the province remained under threat.
The Joint Operations Centre identified the most prominent risks as the potential for panic/fear; social distancing challenges; the impact of any other potential disaster (floods/ fires/ drought/ xenophobia); water and food security; informal settlement exposure; public disorder/crime; socio-economic circumstances; the at-risk population, such as those with HIV/Immune deficiencies and underlying illnesses, and the elderly; poverty impacts; seasonal flu in the winter; and public transport hubs.
A Member said there were broad allegations of councillors who had involved themselves in the distribution of food parcels on a party political basis, and wanted to know if the Minister or the Department had received any details or complaints. Clarity was sought regarding the criteria as to how the R16 million that was distributed to municipalities would be used. Had the Department held any engagement with the national Minister around the implementation of a differentiated approach based on infections in local areas? Based on the financial resources available, would mandatory isolation in a municipal or provincial facility be a better approach to containing the transmission of the virus, rather than allowing individuals to self-isolate? As the Western Cape was still leading the country with infections at that point, a Member questioned the efficacy of the various bodies and people involved in the disaster management.
The Department of Environmental Affairs gave details of its response to Covid-19 in the areas of waste removal, pollution control, water treatment, air quality monitoring, and biodiversity and coastal management. It assured the Committee it was safe to drink properly treated drinking water -- tap water – and people without access to tap water could boil, filter and/or disinfect it using chlorine or bleach. Crematoria had been granted special permission to operate 24/7 during the pandemic.
Members asked if there was any indication that infections could be linked to the handling of household waste. What were the risks if people needed to share soap and water with potentially infected people for the washing of hands? How effective had waste management been, especially in poorer community households? Were there any indications as to what could be causing the spread of infection, especially in the workspaces of both public and private facilities? With winter coming, what measures were in place with regard to informal settlements? Had any mitigation strategies been designed to deal with possible flooding?
Mr Anton Bredell, Western Cape MEC for Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, in his opening remarks stated that Covid-19 continued to kill people and caused severe disruption, including the shutting down of the global economy. In South Africa and the Western Cape, infections continued to increase. He expressed his sincere condolences to those who had lost loved ones as a result of the pandemic.
He said that the Department of Local Government in the Western Cape continued to be one of the key departments in tackling COVID-19 in the province. He thanked the HOD and the Department for their swift action and continued hard work. The Joint Operations Centre had been activated on 24 March in terms of the Disaster Management Act, and continued to support and facilitate a multidisciplinary approach which had brought together all the stakeholders working on the pandemic. In collaboration with the Department of Human Settlement and Department of Water and Sanitation, they had supplemented the water supply for vulnerable communities in the form of water tanks. However, they remained concerned regarding the continued humanitarian crisis that had arisen as a result of the lockdown, as people could not work and gain an income, while food security across the province remained under threat. A few weeks ago, the Department had released the local government support grant, which aimed at supporting those humanitarian initiatives. An amount of R16.2 million had been reallocated, which had been disbursed to the municipalities with the focus being on the most vulnerable.
Local government’s response to Covid-19
Mr Graham Paulse, Head of Department: Department of Local Government, said that the Command Council and Western Cape government (WCG) provincial Coronavirus Command Centre had established the following Covid-19 workstreams:
- Health response;
- Humanitarian and social response;
- Local government and disaster management response;
- Business and economic response;
- Safety and security response;
- Infrastructure response;
- Strategy: Next phase data management, modelling and strategic management / planning response;
- Finance, administration and institutional support;
The Cabinet had adopted a joint district approach (JDA) approach to Covid-19. The Minister for Local Government and Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, had presented a governance structure, in line with the JDA principles to Cabinet on Wednesday, 25 March. After consideration and deliberation, Cabinet had adopted the JDA approach for immediate implementation. Municipalities had accordingly been informed via circular, or though video calls with the Minister, district mayors and municipal managers (MMs).
Mr Paulse said the municipal interface guided consultation, communication and information sharing between the Minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, the Head of Department: Local Government, and district mayors and municipal managers. They meet every Monday, Wednesday and Friday via video call. The Minister could invite other Ministers and HODs to attend the meetings when required, or for information purposes. The district and local mayors and their MMs meet once a week via video call. Provincial HOD’s and other stakeholders could also be invited. The HOD: DLG, other HODs, and the DG with MMs, meet once a week via video call. Other stakeholders could also be invited
The Provincial Disaster Management Centre-Joint Operations Centre (PDMC-JOC) was activated on 24 March in terms of the Disaster Management Act. The COVID-19 response was led by the Provincial Department of Health (DoH). The PDMC-JOC supports and facilitates a multi-disciplinary approach. The DoH, with the support of the PDMC, jointly leads the operational coordinating structure. The primary focus remains on prevention/ mitigation (containment). The JOC was responsible for the operational execution of policy decided upon by the Cabinet.
The JOC had operated on a 24/7 basis since 20 March, coordinating all operations in support of the health response. A cluster approach had been implemented to ensure a multi agency response, and a risk assessment done. The most prominent risks were:
- The potential for panic/fear;
- Social distancing challenges;
- Impact of any other potential disaster (floods/ fires/ drought/ xenophobia);
- Water and food security;
- Informal settlement exposure;
- Public disorder/crime;
- Socio-economic circumstances – a unique South African context;
- At risk population, such as those with HIV/Immune deficiencies, the elderly and underlying illnesses.
- Poverty impacts;
- Seasonal flu – winter season;
- Public transport hubs.
The cluster objectives included:
- Health: Contingency planning for the prevention of infections and management of infected patients.
- Education cluster: Contingency planning for education, including the Department of Higher Education and Training.
- Transport cluster: To ensure a transport strategy.
- Social cluster: Identification and support of vulnerable groups.
- Safety and security: Ensure law and order is maintained, as well as the safety and security of all SA inhabitants.
- Government business continuity and advisory cluster: To ensure business continuity of the government.
- Government communication cluster: To ensure pro-active, reactive and reassuring communication.
- Business, economy and tourism cluster: To ensure a resilient Western Cape economy.
- Disaster operations: Management of disaster response and recovery capacity.
A funding application for R 53 338 667 was made to National Treasury via the National Disaster Management Centre in respect of the Provincial Disaster Relief Grant. And R53.2 m was approved.
The breakdown of public health facilities that would be supported was:
- 13 public health facilities in the City of Cape Town;
- Four public health facilities in the Cape Winelands District Municipality;
- Four public health facilities in the Garden Route District Municipality;
- Four public health facilities in the Overberg District Municipality;
- Two public health facilities in the West Coast District Municipality; and
- Four public health facilities in the Central Karoo District Municipality
A funding application of R239 359 300 was reprioritised by the DLG to R168 931 222, and submitted to National Treasury via the National Disaster Management Centre in respect of the Municipal Disaster Relief Grant, and R7.9m was approved. The approved funding was meant to augment municipal resources with regard to decontamination, personal protective equipment (PPE), hygiene packs, waste management and sanitation.
The PDMC-JOC’s current activities were focused on the health hotline, repatriation, coordinating rapid response to emergencies, logistics support to the DSD, Department of Transport and Public Works (DTPW) and municipalities, the placement and tracking of persons under investigation (PUI) and high risk persons, mapping of critical Infrastructure such as health facilities, isolation and quarantine sites, feeding points, etc, and coordinating preparations for major escalation scenarios.
Mr Paulse described the Covid-19 communication and information protocol for local government.
The JDA principles required communication from the Minister to the District Mayor, in his capacity as political champion, and communication from the Head of Department to the District Municipal Manager, in his capacity as Administrative Head. All communication would then be disseminated via the District Municipality to Local Municipalities. This would include all communication from national departments, provincial departments and stakeholders such as the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) and the Municipal Infrastructure Support Agency (MISA).
At the local government level, all requests for information and data must be addressed to the District Municipal Manager, in his capacity as Administrative Head. All information/data would be collected by the District Municipality from Local Municipalities and collated for submission.
This would include all communication from national departments, provincial departments and stakeholders such as SALGA) and MISA.
All regulations and directions had been issued in terms of the Disaster Management Act, with the purpose of combating the transmission of COVID-19 across different sectors and government mandates. Mechanisms had been put in place to accelerate communication to municipalities, such as dedicated DLG COVID-19 email addresses and WhatsApp groups. To date, in excess of 120 sets of regulations and directions had been issued by various national departments. Generally, the regulations and directions dealt with practical aspects, and municipalities were complying.
Current status in the province was:
- The delivery of basic services in all municipalities was continuing uninterrupted.
- Front line and essential workers were in place and operational.
- All frontline staff had been issued with PPE, and local stock levels had been replenished.
- Basic service delivery was being monitored via the JDA structures on a daily basis and reported accordingly to the provincial and national JOC’s.
- There had been an improvement in basic water supply to high density informal settlements.
- Water tanks, as provided by the Department of Water Affairs, in collaboration with the Department of Human Settlements, had been delivered.
- DLG was providing technical support and guidance to municipalities to ensure that water tanks were installed.
- Distribution of soap and hand sanitisers by the DLG had beencompleted
Mr Paulse referred to the Local Government Support Grant to provide humanitarian relief, and said the regulations and directions enabled institutions within national, provincial and local governments to make funding available, to make institutional arrangements and develop COVID-19 response plans. As a result, the provincial Cabinet had approved a Local Government Support Grant, to be coordinated by the Department of Local Government, aimed at augmenting and supporting the current humanitarian initiatives. This support would be in addition to already implemented initiatives, and would seek to reach the citizens that traditionally would not meet the means test criteria utilised by the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) and the DSD in their food provision programmes. R16.2 million had been gazetted for this purpose.
A working group had been established to deal with fatalities management. It included representatives from the Departments of Local Government, Health, Home Affairs, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, the City of Cape Town and District Municipalities. All documents and advices were legally vetted by a supporting team. The capacity of Home Affairs would be increased in line with mass fatality strategies, in order to certify deaths and issue death certificates. Additional information required from municipalities was the capacity available for cemeteries, burial facilities and undertakers.
Mr D America (DA) said that there had been broad allegations of Councillors who had involved themselves in the distribution of food parcels on a party political basis, and he wanted to know if the Minister or HOD’s office had received any details or complaints. He wanted to know to know if the allegations had been investigated and what the outcomes of the investigations were. Secondly, he sought clarity regarding the criteria as to how the R16 million that was distributed to municipalities would be used, as the dashboard had provided no details with regard to that.
Mr C Dugmore (ANC) asked whether any of the work streams that fell under Cabinet had actually produced a strategy and implementation plan. If they had, could it be supplied, and if not, why not? He found it interesting that the presentation made reference to provincial and district commands, whereas before the lockdown began there had been no such mention. He asked for the Minister’s and HOD’s comments on that, as he believed that it had been one of the critical reasons as to why they were failing at so many levels in the Western Cape in their ability to deal with the pandemic, as they did not have a Command, but rather a Cabinet. He asked if the understanding of the MEC and HOD was that the JOC was a Command, as the presenter of the JOC had indicated that it operated 24/7. He asked if the dashboard that was being provided indicated the actual voting districts under the wards, along with the actual participants that received food parcels – in other words, he meant their ID numbers. He wanted a direct response to the question of the 50 000 food parcels that had been promised by the DSD, along with the breakdowns.
Mr B Herron (GOOD) wanted to know if the Department had held any engagement with the national Minister around the implementation of a differentiated approach based on infections in local areas, and what planning was being done to move to the implementation of that risk adjusted strategy. Based on the financial resources available, he asked whether it had been the best approach in terms of containing the transmission of the virus, to allow individuals to self-isolate, as he believed that there ought to be mandatory isolation in a municipal or provincial facility. Regarding the funding, the R53 million was the same amount that the provinces had allocated for social relief -- had it merely been a coincidence, or had the funding been reallocated? He would appreciate more information about councillors’ and non-governmental organisations’ (NGOs/) involvement in the Covid-19 food parcels. References had been made to circulars being sent out; he asked if more details could be provided regarding what was meant by the circulars, how they were being complied with, and if they would be made mandatory.
Mr F Christians (ACDP) said that assessments of the informal settlements immediately made him worry. Informal settlement exposure was a big problem, and he wanted to know how the disaster management were dealing with that, especially since winter was fast approaching. Did they have any plans to combat the further spread of infections when it came to the informal settlements? The heavy handedness of metro police, the South African Police Service (SAPS) and law enforcement created problems -- even people adhering to the regulations complained of heavy handedness. He emphasised that officials and law enforcement could not enforce the law when they themselves did not understand the regulations.
Mr P Marais (FF+) said that despite all the information that had been presented, the Western Cape was still leading the country with infections at that point, with 6 105 confirmed cases. He questioned the efficacy of the various bodies and people involved in the disaster management. He wanted to know who the head of the disaster management programme was, and how they were appointed. What protection was being provided to warders and officials, as the majority of Covid-19 cases within prisons were warders and not prisoners -- 10 prisoners were infected, compared to 81 warders. The officials were clearly more at risk of contracting the virus.
MEC Bredell said it seemed that there had been mix ups with the billions and the millions. They had not received their fair share, but there would be other allocations which they could hopefully utilise.
Mr Paulse said that the Department had developed a protocol to deal with Councillors and the distribution of food parcels. The protocol had been submitted and endorsed by Cabinet. It prevented Councillors from participating in the distribution of food parcels. It had been converted into a circular and sent to the Speakers, and all measures were in place. They had not received any formal complaints about a political party distributing food parcels on a political basis. Municipal Managers had been made aware of the situation and told to report and bring it to the attention of the Speaker if any red flags were raised on that matter. A Councillor caught politicising food parcels would have the process dealt with through a disciplinary committee.
Regarding the question of humanitarian aid, municipalities needed to report the data on the distribution of the food parcels which would be consolidated and made easier to track.
Regarding water and sanitation, the President had indicated R20 billion was available for local government, and they were currently in discussions with the National Department, which had indicated that the fund would fundamentally be for water and sanitation infrastructure projects to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The City of Cape Town (CoCT) had been working extensively on Covid-19 packages. There were extensive policy documents around that, and broad approaches to communication research. They had done communication research to see how the people of the province preferred communication. The most important work done was the work done by his cluster, as all other sectors were doing work based on the modelling and strategy of the Department of Health (DoH).
He explained that the JOC was a form of a command centre which was at an operational level. The Command Council was at the political level. They fed into each other in order to get a better picture of what was happening with the virus and how to manage it, and to what extent it would be successful. Essentially the economy could be opened only at a level one. The Department of the Premier, through his legal team, was looking into that with a view of writing to the President and National Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs. Currently, discussions had been taking place to reduce the lockdown levels in certain areas whilst keeping an eye on the control over the hotspots.
It was clarified that the R53 million was money received through the National Disaster Management Act after submission and motivation had been submitted. It held no relation to money which was provided through a section 25 notice by the provider. Some of the hotspots for the coronavirus were particularly in informal settlements. A weekly assessment, as part of the Department’s reporting into Cabinet, was being done.
The Department of Local Government were working alongside the Department of Human Settlements, the water board and the municipalities in the province to help install water tankers more quickly into communities that did not have access to water, or had water cuts.
He said it was important to strengthen the law enforcement capacity. The Department of Health took responsibility for the managing of the data. It needed to be realised also that in regard to prisons, warders were people who were able to walk freely in their day to day lives and could therefore pick a virus up in their community or at a shop, for instance. The Department of Correctional Services was transferring or releasing 19 000 prisoners as a way of trying to prevent an outbreak within the prisons.
Mr Colin Deiner, Chief Director: Disaster Management and Fire & Rescue Services, predicted that there would be a lot of rapid events happening -- things would be happening very quickly. They would have to respond as quickly as possible, so it had never been the intention of the Disaster Centre to take over their actual call centres of emergency services.
Ms P Lekker (ANC) referred to the Committee’s time constraints, and made a proposal that the other scheduled presentation involving the Covid-19 response of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning be dealt with at another time -- preferably in the next week -- as the presentations were enormous and Members needed adequate time in order to do proper oversight.
The Chairperson said that they could see how it went.
Ms N Nkondlo (ANC) said that she concurred with the proposal by the Chief Whip, Ms Lekkerm regarding the presentation being moved to another date. Regarding the dashboard, she sought clarity on the figures and funding sources that had actually benefited. Secondly, she wanted to know what the cost implications would be for the Department, as they had mentioned that they were meaning to set up plans, along with their interpretation, but had not specified whether it would be done in-house or outsourced. With regard to the dashboard, she wanted to know if different municipalities, including clusters, could be rated.
Mr Herron said that he wished to go back to his first question, clarifying that he had asked whether individuals isolating in their homes and not within a private or provincial isolation or quarantine facility should not be mandatory, given the high infection rate. Self-isolating did not necessarily mean that the person would adhere to the requirement. Regarding the moving of levels, he wanted to know if there had been any engagement with the Department or Minister of COGTA, which would help provinces to plan properly.
Mr Marais said that while the issue of prisons and businesses had been dealt with in terms of the disaster management, no one had addressed the concerns that would be faced by schools – teachers, learners and staff. The same applied to places of worship. He wanted to know if the Council Command Centre had anything they wished to tell people and take citizens into their confidence. He asked what the criteria and prerequisites were on whether or not to open schools. He said that if people and children were dying, and they were making decisions that affected people’s health and lives, then the Council would have to consist of expert professionals.
MEC Bredell explained that the national government worked out the systems of the structure under which the Department needed to operate. They operated under the structure of an advisory body, and met once every quarter at least. The rest of the structure was currently under the national body, which consisted of a lot of experts on the panels in order to advise. He said that in order to get the economy back on track, schools needed to go back. The situation was being carefully monitored, and returns would occur in phases.
Regarding self-isolation, he said that at the COVID-19 peak they had calculated up to 45 to 50 thousand people would be in isolation or in quarantine sites, and the costs of that could be unsustainable. People who were in a position to self-isolate at home were therefore encouraged to do so, in order not to overload the health system. When speaking to experts, the common agreement was that for every positive case, there could be up to 10 cases that were unknown, and due to the backlog in lab results, there could be many more patients who did not know that they were possibly infected.
Mr Paulse referred to the code of conduct for Councillors, and said any concerns or complaints according to the protocol needed to be raised with the Speaker. The Speaker would then convene what was known as the disciplinary committee, where they would collect evidence and investigate. Based on the investigations done by the disciplinary committee, the Minister would make a final decision. There had not been any cases where disciplinary action had been instituted against Councillors.
A WhatsApp group had been created with all the Mayors, imams, national colleagues and a vast number of various entities, where information related to Covid-19 was distributed to the group almost immediately. Secondly, they had established what they called the code 90 email addresses, which had been established in the Department of Local Government to disseminate information almost on the immediate basis to all municipalities so that it could be distributed amongst councillors. Thirdly, various summaries of pieces of legislation and directives had been made.
Ms Nkondlo wanted to know what the costs had been for the planning and interpretation of legislation, and asked how compliance was being monitored and enforced.
The Chairperson asked if the issue around the City of Cape Town could also be dealt with.
Mr Paulse stated that the interpretation of regulations was being done internally by officials who were attorneys and advocates within the Department. Therefore, there were no costs for external sourcing by service providers to help them.
The Chairperson apologised to the Department of Environmental Affairs, and wished to test the situation with Members, as there was a proposal to have the presentation presented at a later date. After consulting the Parliamentary programme, she saw there were no available Committee slots for the next week, and therefore she proposed that the meeting be extended until 17h30 in order to deal with both presentations.
Mr D Mitchell (DA) supported the proposal.
Mr Dugmore rejected the proposal, as the meeting had been scheduled to end at 16h00, and he had another engagement he needed to attend. To spring it spontaneously on Members at the last minute -- whilst a Member had admitted that they would not be able to attend despite wanting to -- was not being fair to them.
The Chairperson said that the procedural officers were happy to remain until 17h30, and the Department had no objections to the proposal either. The following week, there was a possible opening on Monday, as having the meeting the next day was not possible due to it being reserved for party caucus meetings.
Ms W Philander (DA) supported the Chairperson’s proposal, as the Department were in agreement as well.
Ms Lekker expressed her disapproval of the manner in which the meeting’s proceedings were being done. She proposed Monday as the possible meeting date.
The Chairperson said that Mondays were constituency days, and many Members had said they would not be available on Monday.
Mr Mitchell said that Members needed to be mindful of the fact that the Department was already present at the meeting, and therefore needed to be considered. The Department had not been asked yet if they could attend on Monday.
Ms Nkondlo said that she supported the proposal for Monday, as it would allow Members enough time to fully understand and engage on the presentation.
Mr Dugmore explained that by moving it to Monday, Members would get enough time to analyse and go through the presentation, so that on Monday the Department could just quickly go through it and questions could be posed.
Ms D Baartman (DA) said that unfortunately she would not be available on Monday as it was constituency day and many Members who had constituencies outside of Cape Town would have to travel half the day to get there and back.
Mr Christians agreed that Monday was not an appropriate day, and he would not be able to attend.
The Chairperson asked who could not attend on Monday, and who could remain today, and most Members were in support of extending the meeting until 17h30. A general consensus, according to the Chairperson, had been reached.
Mr Dugmore said that what had happened was not right, and that he would inform the Speaker immediately about it.
Ms Lekker said that the lack of discipline by Members and the Chairperson herself was disgusting, as she could not deal with Members who were rude and abrupt when they giggled and made comments. The Chairperson, along with Members, needed to act maturely and with respect. It was clear that the DA was playing politics regarding not being available, because suddenly they all were not available on the same day.
The Chairperson announced that she had made her ruling.
Ms Lekker interrupted the Chairperson and said that she was arrogant. She reiterated that she would tell the Chairperson upfront to her face that she was arrogant!
Mr Marais remarked sarcastically that he would be leaving the meeting, and the DA Members who were in the meeting for the presentation could “have a good chill,” but he was leaving.
The Chairperson stated that the Department of Environmental Affairs would be allowed to present.
Environmental Affairs and Development Planning
Mr Piet van Zyl, Head: Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA), said the brief given by the Committee to the Department essentially addressed most of their environmental management functions. While another leg to the Department was development planning; they would not be dealing with it today. The DEA had worked and continued to work, very closely with municipalities, particularly in respect of planning applications at both the municipal and provincial level, and in respect of the environmental functions.
Waste management: Risks and challenges
Mr Eddie Hanekom, Director: Waste Management, DEA, said that waste workers were second in line after health workers in the defence against combating the COVID-19 pandemic. There were limitations on the department’s internal capacity to work from home, the control of waste workers was crucial, informal scavengers had to be controlled, and the management of waste removal from Covid-19 households required identification and assessment of infection risks. The department had been liaising provincially, nationally and globally in order to provide guidance on the best waste management practices during the pandemic. The guidelines formed part of the Western Cape government’s policy for the operationalisation of quarantine and isolation facilities.
Waste management services had continued throughout the Western Cape during the pandemic, although there had been a decline in general waste generated and disposed. The province had sufficient capacity to collect, treat and dispose of waste, including health care risk waste. All the municipal waste workers had been provided with appropriate PPE. However, there had been an increase in illegal dumping, and the pandemic was having a severe economic impact on the waste industry, especially on the informal waste industry and waste pickers. The WCG was providing technical assistance to municipalities in the Western Cape, and also assisting other provinces with technical advice
As a relief intervention, the department had introduced a waste pickers’ support programme. A total of R785 000 had been donated by sponsors such as Coco Cola, Plastics SA and the various packaging product responsibility organisations. Vouchers could be redeemed at Shoprite, Checkers, Usave, Pick n Pay, Clicks and DisChem.
Ms Wilna Kloppers, Director: Pollution & Chemicals Management, DEA, dealt with the risk of Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 in water. She said what was known was that droplet transmission and contact routes were the primary modes of transmission of the coronavirus. The virus was sensitive to heat and was highly susceptible to standard disinfection methods.
She said it was safe to drink properly treated drinking water -- tap water – and people without access to tap water could boil, filter and/or disinfect the water using chlorine or bleach. Regarding the risk of Covid-19 in wastewater, international research had detected SARS-CoV-2 in sewage, but no infectious SARS-CoV-2 had been detected, only fragments of the ribonucleic acid (RNA). There had been no reports of faecal−oral transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to date, but further research was ongoing. Proper wastewater treatment processes, including disinfection, was efficient to inactivate the SARS-CoV-2 virus, as these treatment and disinfection processes had been developed, based on the most resistant pathogens, including enteric viruses that were more robust than the COVID-19 virus.
Standard PPE for wastewater treatment workers was safe, and had to be worn for protection from pathogens and viruses, especially those that were more robust and readily transmissible through water than COVID-19. The presence of inactivated virus remnants in specific wastewater catchments could be used as surveillance for early detection of ‘hot-spots’ of community infection. However, this was a specialised field, and research was ongoing.
Dr Joy Leaner, Director: Air Quality Management, DEA, dealt with the section on air quality management, and described the department’s involvement in the thermal treatment of hazardous and general waste. This had included an Environmental Management Inspectorate (EMI) site visit on 21 April, where a facility had been found to be operating unlawfully in terms of the National Environmental Management Air Quality Act (NEMAQA). This had been drawn to the attention of the City of Cape Town, which was the licensing authority.
The DEFF had developed a National Air Quality Index (NAQI) in line with best international practices to simplify the reporting of air quality to the general public in terms of current conditions. The current NAQI status for the the City of Cape Town was “Very Good.”
Crematoria had been granted special permission to operate 24/7 during the pandemic. Where they were out of order, repairs were in progress, or were to be initiated and expedited. Those that were non-compliant to minimum emission standards (MES) were not operating currently, and were assessing the conditions under which they could operate in the future.
Preliminary results of air quality monitoring showed that in Stellenbosch and George there was a definite reduction in daily concentrations of air pollutants, reflecting a possible reduction in transport and industrial activity. In Khayelitsha, a shift in the daily cycle was probably linked to curfew times. Less traffic and reduced industrial activity had led to reduced air pollution.
Ms Marlene Laros, Director: Biodiversity & Coastal Management, DEA, said that essential and permitted services referred to in Section 16(3) of the Regulation Alert Level 4 during the COVID-19 lockdown, included “Wildlife Management, Anti–poaching.” This had an impact on the budget and service delivery of biodiversity and coastal management programmes in the province. The budget implications were still emerging and the implications and impacts on service delivery were not yet clear.
All protected areas and parks were closed, including all pay entry and “open access” areas of the Table Mountain National Park. Some key tourist destinations fell under SANParks management, including Cape Point, Table Mountain and Boulders. Areas managed by SANParks include Agulhas National Park, Bontebok National Park, Garden Route National Park (Wilderness, Knysna, Tsitsikamma), Karoo National Park, Tankwa National Park and West Coast National Park.
Marine protected areas of the West Coast include Sixteen-mile Beach, Langebaan Lagoon, and Malgas, Jutten and Marcus Islands, and the Table Mountain National Park marine protected area.
Dr Ernst Baard, Executive Director: Conservation Operations at Cape Nature, addressing the entity’s ecological management and conservation operations, said that not all ecological projects had commenced, such as bird monitoring, post fire monitoring, invasive alien plant assessments and general biodiversity data collection.
On fire management and alien vegetation clearing, he reported that post 2019/20 fire season assessments had been completed. Of particular concern was the closing of the window of opportunity to conduct a fuel load reduction. Critical prescribed burns were needed. There had been six fires since the lockdown on 27 March, including the Verlorenvlei peat fire. There had been limited to no work on firebreaks, invasive alien clearing had been temporarily stopped, and contractors had withdrawn from fieldwork. Catch-up plans were needed, and post-lockdown instructions were awaited.
Regarding compliance and law enforcement, there were generally fewer anti-poaching and compliance patrols by reserve staff on all reserves, although there were increased patrols in coastal reserves and marine protected areas. There had been at least 15-20 transgressions in terms of illegal access and illegal fishing, and fines and warnings had been issued. On 30 April and 8 May, there had been two arrests of poachers of succulent plants involving more than 9 000 and 1 900 individual plants respectively.
In terms of the Covic-19 regulations, all tourism facilities are closed until the Lockdown Level 1 alert level. The department expected to lose Q1 and Q2 revenue of up to R17 million, which was 40% of the budgeted revenue for the 2020/21 year. Annual trends indicate that during winter period, less revenue is generated, so the impact on revenue would be lessened to some extent. Through strategic financial management, the impact of less revenue and potential reductions to allocations would be buffered. The entity had completed an organisational design process in 2019 which focused on repurposing staff into critical vacant positions where possible, and implementing stricter conditions as to which posts would be filled
Mr A van der Westhuizen (DA) said that the death rate in South Africa had temporarily decreased due to the lockdown, but in order for the country to deal with the pandemic, it needed to know the extent of what could be expected. The first steps in trying to resolve a problem was by understanding it. He asked if just by looking at what other countries had experienced regarding the potential number of infected persons and expected deaths served as any sort of indication for South Africa.
He asked if there was any indication that the virus infection could be linked to the handling of household waste. What were the risks if people needed to share soap and water with potentially infected people for the washing of hands, etc? A number of crematoria had been reported as currently not operating due to maintenance issues. He assumed some of those would be privately owned, and asked if any liaison had taken place with crematoria that were privately owned. To what extent had the environmental management inspectors liaised with and assisted the police and traffic police at places such as roadblocks, etc? Was there any indication of what had caused the wildfires that had been experienced since the lockdown, since it had often been blamed on human activities?
Ms Nkondlo asked how effective the waste management, especially in poorer community households, had been. Were there any indications as to what could be causing the spread of infection, especially in the workspaces of both public and private facilities? With winter coming, what measures were in place with regard to informal settlements? Had any mitigation strategies been designed to deal with possible flooding?
Mr Christians asked if restrictions had not made it easier for Cape Nature to clamp down on the ‘hotspot’ areas and concentrate on them. He wanted to know how Covid-19 had specifically impacted on the parks in terms of regulations and the easier monitoring of resources. He also asked how the R17 million had been lost.
Mr Van Zyl responded that forecasting the extent of the death rate involved a highly sophisticated modelling process that originated in the provincial Department of Health, and was then linked into the national Department of Health, and included input from academia, the Actuarial Association and also the University of Cape Town.
He said one should not look at the management of crematoria facilities and assisting their operators in isolation, but rather collaborate with them through government channels.
The winter preparedness plans were currently under way. All departments had been called upon to make submissions by the beginning of that week for their inputs, as these preparations normally happened annually.
Ms Leaner said that Mr van Zyl had done a good job of explaining the modelling and the expected number of deaths. Regarding crematoria, she said the backup crematoria needed to be replaced or fixed. There was more than one of them out of commission that needed to be repaired. Currently, there was communication with the City of Cape Town for information on the repairs. They were working closely with the CoCT, as well as the licensing authority, on the matter.
The department had 1 212 monitoring stations, and generally the air quality was good -- it was not exceeding the ambient air quality standards. She assured the Committee that when looking at the modelling for the entire country on lockdown level 3 versus lock down 5, there was not much difference in the Western Cape because the air quality in the province was generally good.
Mr Hanekom said he was a member of the International Solid Waste Association, and was not aware of any viral transmission through solid waste. Compared to the rest of the country, the air quality in the province was cleaner, but there were definitely areas in the informal settlements that needed more attention. Last year they had done a study on informal settlements and worked very closely with municipalities to even escalate the matter, because there was a lot of illegal dumping and pollution taking place in that area.
Describing himself as an “old environmental health practitioner,” he explained that his role in the pandemic was to coordinate the waste management aspect. There were different strategies in place to prevent the spread, such as the national hygiene strategy developed by the national Department of Health. Unfortunately, he would not be able to answer the question on the private workplaces where transmission was taking place.
Ms Kloppers said the use of hand sanitisers was very effective in deactivating the virus, so the actual sharing of soap would not pose a problem. Lack of social distancing and touching of other surfaces would prove more of a problem.
MEC Bredell said that the Committee needed to realise that when the Department planned, they planned in order to deal with the worst case scenarios. When they spoke about high numbers, it was only because they had planned for the worst case scenario; which was normal from a disaster management perspective.
The Chairperson thanked the entire delegation for answering the difficult questions posed, especially during a time when their job was tough already in managing the pandemic crisis. She hoped they all remained safe.
Mr Herron was recognised, as it was remembered that he had wished to table a matter prior to the meeting.
Mr Herron said he did not wish to table anything, but rather to enquire what the procedure was when a Department that had presented to the Committee had deliberately misled it.
The Chairperson asked if she could take advice and get back to him.
Mr Herron agreed, and thanked her.
Ms Nkondlo requested that the Committee take time to decide how best to utilise their time when Departments were before them, as time was not always on their side. Receiving the presentations beforehand would help in optimising the time spent going through presentations, and leave more time for engagement.
Mr Van der Westhuizen suggested that another hour be added to meetings, as it seemed Members generally asked and submitted a lot of questions, which generally left little time for actual engagement on the presentation.
The Chairperson said that the feasibility of extending meetings needed to be taken into account, as many Members had other commitments as well. She reminded the Members that the Committee would certainly continue for a good couple of months into the future until the pandemic was no longer a crisis, and therefore departments would be called back several times.
Mr Christians asked if it would be possible to get the presentations in advance in order to familiarise themselves with them and be able to engage constructively with the delegation. He did not agree to the adding of an extra hour to meetings.
Consideration and Adoption of minutes
Ms Baartman moved to adopt the minutes of 6 May, and Mr Van der Westhuizen seconded.
Mr van der Westhuizen moved to adopt the minutes of 8 May, and Ms Philander seconded.
The minutes were adopted.
The meeting was adjourned.
Wenger, Ms MM
Allen, Mr R
America, Mr D
Baartman, Ms DM
Bosman, Mr G
Botha, Ms L
Christians, Mr F
Dugmore, Mr C
Herron, Mr BN
Lekker, Ms P
Mackenzie, Mr R
Marais, Mr PJ
Marran, Mr P
Maseko, Ms M
Mitchell, Mr D
Nkondlo, Ms ND
Philander, Ms W
Sayed, Mr MK
Smith, Mr D
Van der Westhuizen, Mr AP
Xego, Mr M
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