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Natal floods disaster: Fears now of an epidemic

Officials say there is no doubt the numbers will soar as the rivers, swollen by torrential reins, begin to drop. Worst hit are hundreds of thousands of people living in the shack settlements and rural areas of Natal/KwaZulu who will have to rebuild their homes. Cities and towns have been hit by a drastic water shortage which is complicating mopping up operations.

There are fears that the aftermath of the floods will bring a widespread increase in water-related diseases like gastro-enteritis, malaria, typhoid and cholera, all of these endemic in the region. It is estimated that a third of the houses in the giant Inanda reserve next to Durban will have to be re-built because they were completely destroyed or were so damaged that they need substantial repairs. That would involve ever 100 000 people in Inanda alone, and it is believed the proportions will be similar for shack settlements and rural areas in other parts of the rain-hit province.

The number of homes damaged in the disaster could be as high as 50 000, according to Minister of National Health Dr WiIlie van Niekerk. The rising water and rivers reached their peak on Monday night and on Tuesday many towns and villages were cut off with road, phone and train links gone. Although the toll was heaviest in the rural and squatter areas, the floods also played havoc with many people in the suburbs: in just one incident at least 11 people died when two houses in Durban's Chatsworth township collapsed.

As police continue to count the bodies, many Durban township residents expressed fears that political assassins had used the cover of rain and darkness to dispose of their enemies in the widespread and continuing political violence which has torn Natal townships.

The tension was illustrated on Saturday in KwaMashu when King Goodwill Zweletini and KwaZulu Chief Minister Mangosutho Buthelezi spoke at a Shaka Day rally. Buthelezi said there were people who mislead children into "nefarious activities". "I call upon the KwaMashu community … to eradicate this evil from our midst."

At Lindelani alone, which borders KwaMashu and which has been the scene of intense rivalry between supporters of Inkatha and of the United Democratic Front, police reported finding 13 bodies on Wednesday. However, police said there was no evidence to substantiate these rumours. They added that every body found was being stored in a state mortuary and that a post mortem would be performed on each.

Crippled by the water shortages, all six of Durban's hospitals are operating at a fraction of their normal capacity. They have agreed to limit their admissions to urgent cases and to operate only in emergencies.

The superintendent of the city's giant King Edward VIII Hospital commented, "Since we are absolutely dependant on our laundry to maintain hygenic standards, we are in effect operating at 30 percent of our usual capacity". He said the hospitals were coping at the moment because the roads were still too bad to allow patients in outlying areas to come to the city.

Early on Thursday morning one of the four aqueducts feeding Durban was restored, slightly improving the water supply, but water restrictions are due to come into operation-today in Durban. Thousands of people in the satellite towns are already without water, dependant on tankers which come round daily. The water crisis has devastated industry in the region and supplies to all major industrial consumers was switched off on Tuesday. 

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.

 

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Carmel Rickard
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