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21 June 2023 Media Release: Floods cannot be prevented, but mismanagement of waste water can

Media Release: Floods cannot be prevented, but mismanagement of waste water can

For immediate release
21 June 2023

“Ongoing cold fronts bringing torrential rain and flooding with significant damage to infrastructure, property and degrading valuable agricultural land and crops in the Western Cape are beyond human control, and with a changing climate South Africa will in all probability experience an increase of episodic rainfall events and flooding, and these can have destructive results, of which the 2022 KZN flood incident is a perfect example, ” says Cobus Meiring of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).

Globally, fresh water resources are increasingly under pressure as populations grow and rapid urbanisation and development impacts negatively on water availability and quality.

South African water authorities and municipalities are increasingly found wanting when it comes to environmental disasters that could have been prevented through  maintenance and the upgrading of water treatment plants, better trained staff as well as sufficient oversight and by dedicating sufficient resources. The present day threat to water security can however be addressed quite quickly to ensure better quality of waste water discharged after treatment resulting in healthier river systems to the benefit of down- stream water users and dependent eco systems.

South African authorities at all levels have neglected effective treatment of waste water over decades, and the deadly outbreak of Cholera claiming almost forty lives at Hammanskraal outside Pretoria in May 2023 is a horrific example of the result of what can only be described as gross neglect and incompetence, exacerbated by ever present power failures at pump stations. The Hammanskraal Cholera outbreak made headline news because of its deadly consequences, but what more often than not do not make the headlines is the effect of institutional failure to effectively deal with waste water on South African river health and eco system collapse. There are almost no river systems left in South Africa where the water is not contaminated to the point where it would be deadly to drink if not boiled or treated.

Responsible management of  waste water facilities and the protection of the country’s fresh water resources is entirely possible and absolutely not negotiable. This objective can be achieved through the training of dedicated staff dealing with water related tasks at all levels, sustained maintenance and upgrading of waste water facilities to cope with increased inflow of waste water, including sufficient technical capacity and know- how, oversight and experience.

Landowners also have a responsibility and a role to play in terms of water management

In the Garden Route and Southern Cape, the treatment of waste water is generally of an acceptable standard as a result of sound municipal management, but lots more can be done from an environmental management point of view. Aside from sticking to best water use management practices and extraction limits , landowners and land managers in the region should do more in terms of managing invasive alien plants on their properties, especially along rivers, streams and wetlands, and in the process contribute to ensuring the well- being of the environment and a higher quality of life for all living in the region.

The Garden Route Environmental Forum will be co- hosting its Climate Change and Environmental Management Indaba with the Nelson Mandela University at the George Campus on Thursday 29 June.


Caption: The Swartvlei estuary can absorb large amounts of water during heavy rainfall or storm events.