There is no water crisis, says govt

South Africa is not facing a water crisis, the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry said on Monday.

The department was responding to media reports on the weekend, citing a National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) report that suggested serious problems with the country’s water supply, including radioactive contamination, unsafe dams and waste spills.

“The Sunday Times on February 3 2008 presents a gloomy picture of the state of water in South Africa and says that we are facing a water crisis similar to that of electricity.

“Fortunately we are not,” said Water Affairs and Forestry Minister Lindiwe Hendricks.

She said while the article raised various concerns, it did not “outline all the measures and responses taken by my department to address these issues”.

The article said 43% of dams managed by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry had safety problems and needed urgent repair.

Hendricks said she had already outlined in Parliament “a comprehensive assessment of what needs to be done, where it needs to be done and the extensive budget that has been allocated to addressing the infrastructure needs of the dams”.

The article also detailed the alleged contamination of water, vegetables and fish with radioactive material in the Wonderfonteinspruit area.

Hendricks said while the ministry was concerned with the issues raised in the report, “one should be careful in extrapolating an issue that affects one kilometre of a river and directly impacts on 950 people as something that impacts on the water quality of 48-million people”.

Hendricks said that it was companies and municipalities who allowed the pollution of water resources who were of concern to the department.

The NNR report allegedly indicates that acid mine drainage—when waste water from mining operations seeps into a groundwater system—has occurred in South Africa.

Hendricks said the issue had been dealt with “comprehensively” and that the mines in question were being cooperative with the government.

“South Africans can rest assured that we do not have a ‘water crisis’ resulting from poor planning.

“Our planning systems are strong and have looked at future water needs,” said Hendricks.

However, because South Africa was a water-scarce region, it was always necessary to conserve water, she said.

The department said alleged acid mine drainage was not “in anyway jeopardising future water supply”.

The department said all the mines in the Wonderfontein catchment had established an action group to address the impact of mining activities in the area.

Investigations have led the department to identifying appropriate clean-up scenarios and local authorities have been instructed to provide the affected community with drinking water.

The department also said mines had been held responsible for collecting, containing and treating any water contaminated by radioactive waste.

Infrastructural maintenance needs of dams were being taken care of by the R1,25-billion allocated to the department by the National Treasury in April 2006.

Democratic Alliance (DA) water affairs and forestry spokesperson Mpowele Swathe said the government’s response to the water situation “so far has been one of denial and reassurance”.

“Given that only a few days ago the government was apologising for having ignored warnings about electricity supply, the DA is deeply worried that the government has not in fact taken on board the lessons of Eskom, and continues to live in a state of denial.”—Sapa

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