Sunday, February 17, 2008

Skills shortage blamed for sewage leaks into South African rivers

Climate change interacts with other factors, too. From the Sunday Independent (South Africa): Skills shortages are to blame for sewage leaks into water sources such as dams and rivers, a senior Rand Water Board official says. "The problem is skills. There are enough danger signs showing that a lack of skills is responsible for some of the sewage spills in the Vaal River and Hartebeespoort Dam for example," the official said.

The senior manager, who asked that his name be withheld, said poor water quality could be blamed on poor maintenance. "The drinking water is not a problem because the technology exists to clean it before it reaches users. If problems arise it is usually at the purification works, where there is a shortage of skills, especially in smaller towns," he said.

Concerns about skills shortages affecting water quality were echoed by Francois van Wyk, a water quality specialist at Rand Water. The main problem, he said, was that water suppliers were unable to trade the skills of retirees and other senior staff with properly trained replacements. In some instances companies were not training replacements, while some smaller municipalities did not even have engineers in service.

Because of this the country's rivers were at risk. He said a crisis could arise in the Vaal Dam, Gauteng's chief water resource, because of the expansion of industries such as Sasol. Van Wyk pointed out that for the first time ever, health warnings have had to be issued for the Barrage and Loch Vaal areas of the Vaal River in the past three months, because of sewage spills.

He said there was a possibility that people taking part in watersports could contract stomach bugs, skin infections or ear, nose and throat infections if they swam in, or ingested, Vaal River water at these two spots.

This weekend the warning was to stay away from the Rietspruit Weir and Klipriver areas because of high bacterial levels in the water. Loch Vaal had extremely high levels of cyanobacteria and an increasing risk of microbial infections or infectious diseases.

...Morne du Plessis of the World Wide Fund for Nature South Africa (WWF-SA) said the power supply crisis and looming freshwater shortage were early warnings that South Africans needed to urgently rein in use of the country's natural resources to avert the full impact of climate change. He said that if South Africans continued being wasteful, and if development continued at the present rate, the country would run out of water. "Figuratively, the lights are going to go out… Unless we deal with water wisely now, we will not survive.

"If we do not treat our freshwater as a finite resource, the resulting catastrophe could be far worse than the current electricity supply crisis," said Du Plessis. "At current rates of supply and consumption the country will run out of water by 2025. "The solution to this is planning, prudence and participation, rather than panic. The government, civil society and the private sector must work together."

Du Plessis said that while continuing power cuts had enraged South Africans and focused attention on energy supply and the provision of basic services, it was worth noting that the recent World Economic Forum meeting in Davos saw grave concerns raised over the global availability of the three most basic commodities: food, energy and water.

Photo of Kaaiman's River Bridge, Wilderness, South Africa by Daniel van der Merwe, of Capetown (Wikimedia Commons)

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