/ 6 October 2023

Joburg water crisis not dampening hospital care

Photo: Papi Morake/ Getty Images

At Rahima Moosa, water tankers can be seen supplying water to the facility, which has been under fire since the South African health ombudsman in March 2023 published findings of an investigation into the state of the facility after a video went viral showing pregnant women lying on the hospital floor.

The ombud’s investigation revealed that the facility was suffering from severe overcrowding and staff shortages.

But Rahima Moosa Hospital’s acting CEO, Dr Arthur Manning, said the water supply at the hospital was manageable as the facility was receiving water via tankers supplied by Rand Water.  

“The hospital uses approximately 200 000 litres a day, we have 13 000 litres of water that is coming out of our two boreholes and water tankers that are being delivered to us so we have been managing with this supply so far,” he said.

This comes after News24 reported that staff and patients at the hospital were bringing their own water bottles to flush toilets, and had to walk to other sections of the hospital to get drinking water. 

Reacting to this, Dr Manning said the report only focused on one side of the hospital that is not connected to a reservoir. This was why patients and staff had to make use of the adjacent building’s toilets.

“The out-patients ward and the paediatric admin offices do not get water because they are not connected to a reservoir so we asked patients to use the [adjacent] building for toilets and so forth, that is why they were seen walking with water bottles – it’s not that there is no water at the hospital,” he said.

Since September, Rahima Moosa has been experiencing inconsistent water supply due to the Hursthill 1 reservoir being critically low.

In the area covering Helen Joseph Hospital and Rahima Moosa Hospital, there are three water reservoirs: Dunkeld Reservoir, Brixton Tower and Hursthill Reservoir.

Helen Joseph Hospital and its surrounding areas had experienced lower water pressure due to the Dunkeld Reservoir’s water levels being low. 

However, the Gauteng health department said that since September, Helen Joseph has had good water pressure as it was being fed from an alternative line through the Brixton Tower.

“The Gauteng Department of Health facilities have reservoirs and some also have boreholes as part of the backup system when there are supply disruptions. However, the system becomes strained when the interruptions are prolonged,” said Gauteng Health Department spokesperson Motalatale Modiba.

Meanwhile, half of the 37 public health hospitals in Gauteng are exempted from load shedding, while all Gauteng hospitals and most of its clinics have backup generators in case of power supply interruption.

Although some reservoirs have backup water storage available during power outages, the constant power cuts mean pumps do not get the continuous flow of water to maintain it. As a result, it creates complications as the reservoirs are not kept full while the treatment plant can operate, or the final product gets distributed while the treatment plant is off, according to water treatment solutions company, Nu Water.

Amidst the water shortages at health facilities, the Gauteng Health Department said the Pholosong Hospital, Ekuhuleni, is currently erecting an additional reStaff at some of Johannesburg’s busiest public hospitals say that any water shortages experienced at their facilities should be placed at the feet of Rand Water, and not healthcare facilities. 

“We are here to treat patients, we are not in charge of reservoirs – we are clients of Rand Water and they are failing to provide us with water, so what do we do as a hospital? We just have to adapt to these circumstances we are faced with,” a nurse from Helen Joseph Hospital told the Mail & Guardian, echoing the sentiments of other healthcare providers the M&G spoke to.

Health facilities such as Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Hospital, Helen Joseph Hospital and Pholosong Hospital in Ekurhuleni have been experiencing water supply interruptions for months due to low water levels at reservoirs which could have a dire effect on daily operations within the facilities.

servoir with a capacity of 500 000 litres. It is expected to be completed by the end of October 2023 and will increase the total capacity to 660 000 litres.

Meanwhile, Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu has instructed water management agencies in Gauteng including Rand Water, to implement ‘water shifting’ to address the water crisis in the province.

“In line with the Minister’s directive, Rand Water is implementing water shifting as a management tool to balance its systems. Simply put, water shifting means moving or shifting water from one system to another to ensure a balanced and equitable supply of water to municipal customers and residents,” said Rand Water spokesperson Makenosi Maroo.

Speaking to the Mail & Guardian, the DA’s shadow MEC for health in Gauteng, Jack Bloom, said more attention needs to be placed on the water pressure at the hospitals. 

“Hospitals have to adjust like we all are, but more attention needs to be placed on the water pressure and the maintenance work being done at these hospitals to ensure water supply,” he said. 

Commenting on what “water shifting” would mean for hospitals in Gauteng, Dr Manning said it is inevitable because of South Africa’s scarce water supply and hospitals will be forced to adapt.

“If that is one of the options that will help us manage water better then we have to understand that it is an inevitable part of managing our resources but we must also educate and make sure we are not losing water through infrastructure.”

Earlier this week, ActionSA said it had written to the minister for more information about the duration of the water shifting, an estimation of when water systems will be balanced, and which communities within the Gauteng metro will be affected.

The DA has said the government needs to take steps to ensure that hospitals and surrounding areas should be prioritised during the water shifting schedules.