Minister has serious concerns about sanitation

Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica on Wednesday denied there was a sanitation crisis in South Africa, but said her department had “very serious concerns” about sewage plant operations at municipalities.

“I wouldn’t say there was a crisis in a way that would make people run, really, but there are serious concerns, we have very serious concerns … as the regulator,” she told journalists in Cape Town.

She was speaking at the launch of her department’s 2010 Host Cities Drinking Water Quality Management Audit Report.

Responding to a question, Sonjica declined to discuss details of the long-awaited Green Drop report, a national audit of sanitation infrastructure and wastewater treatment plants, saying this would be released on April 19.

Sources within water affairs say the document highlights “huge problems” at municipal treatment works. The report was supposed to have been issued last year.

In January, it was reported that only 32 of about 970 municipal works around the country comply with requirements for the safe discharge of treated sewage water. The department has not responded to questions sent to it a fortnight ago seeking confirmation of these figures.

Non-governmental organisations and others have also raised concerns about alarming levels of bacteriological pollution in many rivers and streams downstream from such treatment plants.

Sonjica said there were “areas where we are concerned about our wastewater treatment works”.

The biggest difficulty was that the operation and maintenance of the works was the responsibility of municipalities. All the department could do was issue directives.

“All municipalities concerned are sitting with directives as we speak,” she said, but did not put a figure on how many non-compliant municipalities had been issued such directives.

Sonjica said her department sought 100% compliance from municipalities when it came to wastewater treatment.

“These are sensitive areas. One that could lead to an outbreak [of disease] for us. We want 100% compliance.

“So there are serious concerns, but there isn’t a crisis yet. And we wouldn’t want to get to a crisis, and we will not get to a crisis,” she said. — Sapa

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