Delmas Diarrhea Outbreak 2007: Department briefing

Water and Sanitation

20 November 2007
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Meeting report

WATER AFFAIRS AND FORESTRY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
21 NOVEMBER 2007
DELMAS DIARRHEA OUTBREAK 2007: DEPARTMENT BRIEFING

Chairperson:
Ms R September (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Delmas Diarrhea Outbreak 2007: Presentation
Portfolio Committee draft Report on Inkomati Catchment Management (not discussed)
[available at Committee Reports once published]

Audio recording of meeting

SUMMARY
The Department of Water Affairs and Forestry briefed the Committee on the situation in Delmas, where there had been a diarrhea outbreak. There had been problems in this region prior to 1993, when a water treatment works had to be built, and again in 2005, when there was an outbreak of diarrhea. There had been insufficient chlorine dosage in the areas water prior to 14 October 2007, and 1003 cases of diarrhea had been reported. The Department had immediately intervened and put extra staff to assist the Municipality in taking samples and monitoring, and had pledged extra funds to enhance present capacity. The Department had ascertained that drinking water was now safe. The second stage of the investigation had done sampling, which showed that three borehole sampling points were contaminated in the same ways as 1993 and 2005. This was through overloading of the waste water treatment plant. The tests would be completed by 22 November. Low levels of chlorine residual indicated that water was probably the trigger for the diarrhea outbreak, but was not the reason for continuation of the problem, which could be ascribed to other factors that a University study would show. It had recommended that chlorine stock and dosing should remain a priority, that shortcomings with the water mix at Eloff must be resolved, and that the municipality should immediately issue “Boil Water” notices should chlorine levels drop.

Members were concerned what the Department had been doing to address the situation and queried why the technology used to treat boreholes in the Karoo was not implemented in Delmas. Further questions related to the toilet systems in the area, whether there were by laws, the problems of enforcement, whether the dolomite in the area affected the quality of water, whether infrastructure was maintained, what warning systems existed, and what were the problems with the Rand water pipeline. Members expressed their concern that the answers given were not sufficient, and recommended that the Committee meet with the Minister.

MINUTES
Water situation in Delmas: Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (DWAF) briefing
Mr Leonardo Manus, Deputy Director, Water Services, DWAF, and Mr Fanyana Mntambo, acting Chief Director: North West, DWAF, briefed the Committee on the situation in Delmas, where there had been a diarrhea outbreak. The Department said that the Delmas Municipality had been a Water Service Authority since 2003. There was a Rand water pipeline supplying water to the region. He admitted that one of the water systems in the region was reported as not having met the standards prior to 1993, with the result that it was recommended that a portable water treatment works must be built.

Further recommendations emanating from 2005 were outlined, with a table showing what had been done.

The Department noted that there was a lack of chlorine dosage in the areas water prior to 14 October 2007, and that up to 1003 cases of diarrhea had been reported in the area. A comparison with the 2005 outbreak was being developed and would be ready by 23 November 2007.

The immediate intervention by the Department was that staff members were assisting the municipality in taking samples and monitoring chlorine. A commitment of R750 000 had been made by DWAF to appoint a management contractor to enhance present capacity. The Premier had committee funding for linking to the Rand water pipeline and completion of the purification works. Long term sustainability was being proposed to establish management contracts at district level to deal with water and sanitation issues.

In regard to the investigation on water quality, the first intervention was to implement the investigation to ensure that drinking water was now safe. The second investigation would examine whether drinking or resource water were responsible for the outbreak. Recommendations would then be made for improving. The microbiology sampling showed that there was no microbiological contamination in reticulated water. However, sampling of boreholes showed that three sampling points were contaminated in the same ways as 1993 and 2005. This was through overloading of the waste water treatment plant. The tests would be completed by 22 November.

Although there were insufficient levels of free chlorine from 11 September, this was consistent and was despite constant dosing of water. Good records had been kept by the municipality. DWAF concluded that the low levels of chlorine residual indicated that water was probably the trigger for the diarrhea outbreak. However, it was clearly not the reason for the continuation of the problem. Adequate levels had prevailed in the system since 14 October, and the chlorinated water of Delmas, mixing with chlorinated Rand water from Eloff, played a role in detected low levels. The University of Johannesburg would be assisting with a study to find out why the diarrhea outbreak was continuing, particularly in view of the fact that most infants were being fed on formula mixed with boiled water, and the timing, after the rainy season.

The immediate recommendations had been that chlorine stock and dosing should remain a priority. The shortcomings with the water mix at Eloff must be resolved. Additional barriers must be in place before the next rainy season. If there should be any insufficient chlorine levels detected, the Municipality must immediately issue a “Boil Water” notice.

Discussion
Mr Jeff Rudin, National Researcher, South African Municipal Workers Union, commented that it was very good to hear what the Department was doing now, but expressed concerns that this was the third time a diarrhea outbreak had occurred in the region since 2003.

Ms R September (ANC) replied that the Committee had held public hearings with regards to the matter and had even visited the area.

Mr J Arendse (ANC) asked DWAF why it was not using proven technology to help this situation, He indicated that technology was used in an area in the Karoo to purify borehole water. He further commented that no price tag could be put on people’s lives.

Mr Manus said that situations differed and thus a blanket solution could not be implemented.

A Member of the Committee said that DWAF was very optimistic about underground water. He asked what type of toilet system was being used in the region, as the pit system might have been the cause of the outbreak.

Mr Mntambo, said that in Delmas there was no pit toilet system. There was a bucket system still being used in informal settlements, but the formal settlements used a proper sanitation system.

A Member asked how long did municipalities take to make by-laws, as he felt that they would be useful in this situation.

Mr Mntambo said that by-laws were already in place but that there were problems with enforcing them.

Mr B Mosala (ANC), asked if the dolomite in the area of Delmas influenced the quality of water.

Mr Mntambo admitted that the dolomite affected the quality of water.

Mr K Moonsamy (ANC), said that he was not happy with the report by the Department. He asked what could be done immediately, and whether the infrastructure was well maintained in the area.

Mr Mntambo said that the infrastructure was not being well maintained, due to a lack of capacity, but that the Department was doing everything in its power to address the matter.

Mr M Sibuyana (IFP) said that the constant recurrence of the situation showed that there was a lack of preventative steps being taken by the people in charge

Ms P Bhengu (ANC) asked if there were any warning systems in place to prevent such outbreaks from recurring.

Mr Mntambo admitted that there could be human error, with regard to warning systems.

Mr Manus said that DWAF was putting a system in place where a warning would go to the mobile phone of the technician in charge, telling them to check a particular point in the system.

A Member of the Committee asked what was being done with the Rand water issue, because in 2003 the Department had reported that it would channel water from the Rand water area to the Delmas area. He asked what had happened in 2003 to address the shortage of chlorine that then existed.

Mr Mntambo said that there were a number of factors in regard to this issue and DWAF was working with the municipality to develop a business plan. They had already done the feasibility studies on the pipeline.

Mr Manus added that a Rand water pipeline had been supplying water to the area, and other resources such as borehole water were being used. Mr Manus further said that it was not pure chlorine that was used in the water, and other chemicals were also present in the water.

The Chairperson noted that the Committee was not entirely happy with the explanations provided and felt that the Department was not being totally transparent. She recommended that the Committee should meet with the Minister.

The meeting was adjourned.

 

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