Water Quality and Security: Public hearings

Water and Sanitation

06 August 2006
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Meeting report

WATER AFFAIRS AND FORESTRY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
7 August 2006
WATER QUALITY AND SECURITY: PUBLIC HEARINGS

Chairperson: Ms C September (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Chamber of Mines presentation
Department of Health presentation
Department of Water Affairs and Forestry presentation
Business Unity South Africa submission

SUMMARY
The Committee met with stakeholders to receive briefings on water quality and water security in certain sectors. The Chamber of Mines provided information on the origins and responsibilities of the Chamber. Various social legacies were outlined. Factors determining water quality impacts were explained. Current practices in mining and water quality were discussed. Certain activities had been created to improve water quality. A number of environmental challenges prevailed. Turn-around time on authorisations tended to have an adverse impact on economic conditions. The Department of Health provided an outline on water and sanitation at clinic facilities. A mixed response from the provinces was received with regard to information requests on status of facilities. Types of water access in fixed facilities were explained. Detail was also provided on levels of sanitation within health facilities. Information on quality of water at facilities was inconclusive.

Members asked various questions including steps taken by the mining industry to clean water before disposal, the role of the mining industry in enhancing water quality, the development of dams by mines, water quality within rural areas, responsibilities of licence holders, steps to improve provincial reporting procedures, improving access to water for farm workers, the need for clean water to assist health measures and standards of sanitation at health facilities.

MINUTES
Chamber of Mines presentation

Mr Nikisi Lesufi (Environmental Advisor) provided a brief account of the history of the mining industry and its contribution to the South African economy. Qualified staff was required to ensure proper implementation of regulations. Detail was presented on specific issues encountered in the mining industry pertaining to water quality and pollution. Various industry activities had been formulated to improve water quality. Current challenges were outlined including environmental concerns.

Discussion

Mr J Arendse (ANC) stated that Members were aware of the legacies in mining and the historical practices. He asked what steps mines took to clean water before returning it to river systems. The industry was directly responsible for water pollution related to industry activities. The industry had to explain what measures were in place to rectify historical legacies. He asked whether water treatment plants had been established at mines.

Mr K Moonsamy (ANC) acknowledged the importance played by the mining industry in developing the South African economy. However, legacies had to be recognised. The contribution of the mining industry towards development had to be interrogated. The constant issue in mining was the exploitative wages paid to mine workers. The mining industry should develop dams to provide clean water to communities. The mining industry had to pay close attention to the recent Nelson Mandela lecture delivered by President Mbeki.

Ms S Maine (ANC) asked what steps were in place to address capacity shortfalls in terms of water management. The closure of mines could result in extensive water pollution due to neglected mine shafts. Water quality within rural areas had to be improved. She asked whether a monitoring system was in place to ensure adequate levels of water provision in less developed areas.

The Chairperson sought clarity on waste rocks and mine closures. The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) had established a National Water Resource Strategy in 2005 and she asked whether the Chamber was aware of the contents. The mining industry used 15% of South Africa’s total water consumption. The mines remained a major source of water pollution and waste discharges. Water audits were important to gauge performance against established benchmarks. Licence holders had certain prescribed responsibilities that had to be adhered to to maintain the licencee’s rights. Water management plans had to be formulated by licence holders. The Chamber had to put forward a blueprint for survival.

Mr Lesufi declared that current roleplayers in the industry had not necessarily supported apartheid. Different roleplayers now existed. Industry stakeholders had to produce community development programmes. Any mine discharge of water had to receive authorisation from the Department in accordance with set standards. Unauthorised discharges had to be addressed through legal channels. The Department should monitor the mining industry and approach violators to seek redress. The pumping of water out of mines was carried out under strict terms and conditions. Environmental management procedures were in place to govern practice.

Regional solutions to monitoring of mine activity should be considered. Rules were in place to determine appropriate waste rock dumps. The industry could not address all legacies from previous damaging activities on its own. No anecdotal evidence existed to support the theory that mining activity in Rustenburg caused brown teeth in members of the community. The mining industry would not pollute water supplies unnecessarily as treatment was a high cost factor. Mining companies would strive to reduce water discharge. The Chamber was part of a Steering Committee formulating an appropriate response to water discharge issues. Bilateral meetings with mining executives could be held to improve compliance with regulations.

The Chairperson reminded Members that public hearings had been held to acquire background information on the prevailing context and assisting in formulating appropriate responses to the challenges of water quality and water security.

Department of Health (DOH) presentation
Mr B Asia (Chief Director: Districts and Development) noted the importance of water quality for all communities for optimal health. Intersectoral collaboration was crucial to ensure success. Detail was provided on the types of water available at fixed health clinics. The level of sanitation in clinics was also discussed. Category A and C municipalities were now responsible for health services.

Discussion

Ms E Lishiva (ANC) asked how provincial reporting procedures could be improved.

Mr Arendse advocated that the Department of Health should be included in the cluster responsible for water provision. The Department could play a role in setting standards for the discharge of waste water. Access to water on farms had to be dramatically improved to avoid outbreaks of disease. He asked whether the Department monitored activities on farms.

Ms Maine noted that the provision of sound health treatments relied on clean water in order to, for example, allow medications to be administered. Reporting anomalies existed at the provincial level that had to be addressed.

Mr Moonsamy asked for detail on the quality of water at fixed health facilities.

The Chairperson concurred that reporting at the provincial level had to be enhanced. Poor water quality resulted in sudden health discrepancies. A framework was in place to facilitate better intergovernmental relations.

Mr Asia responded that health facilities had budget allocations in place to provide clean water supply. Such services were included within the infrastructure and maintenance budget. Data from provinces was available and could be provided to Members. Information officers had been appointed to collate all pertinent information from the provinces and incorporate it in a central system. Standards were in place to govern waste water management. The majority of health facilities were not responsible for waste management. The service tended to be outsourced to service providers. Access to water on farms remained a major problem as most farm owners did not invest in better facilities. Services on farms would be included in the infrastructure audit presently underway. Clean water played a crucial role in treatment practices. The Department was not responsible for water provision. The placement of new health facilities in rural areas should be part of an integrated planning strategy. Water service providers had to also provide clean water to ensure adequate health services in certain regions. The provision of water should be seen as a joint responsibility of key stakeholders. A communication system was in place to render improved information from municipalities and awareness of potential shortcomings. Outbreak response teams were in place to respond to health-related emergencies.

The Chairperson asked that the Department provide an overall picture of water provision in the health sector to Members in one week. The responsibility of water provision had to be reconsidered with regard to budget allocations. The Department of Health should also be involved in maintaining adequate standards of water provision.

The meeting was adjourned.

 

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