Armed forces called in by Government to help rescue the Vaal River

The white foam on the Rietspruit near Vanderbijlpark is an indication of severe pollution. This aerial photo was taken in September 2017. The Spruit is probably in an even worse state now, a year later.

 

 

Finance minister Tito Mboweni yesterday announced that the government has called in armed forces to help deal with the water crisis in the Vaal River system.

 

Referring to the crisis in his Mid Term Policy Statement yesterday, Mboweno said Government’s immediate focus will be to mobilise short-term financing by reprioritising funds and increasing capacity. The state aims to tackle broken infrastructure and mobilise short-term financing to resolve the sewage problem

“I have asked the President and the Minister of Defence for the Military to assist with engineering and other expertise to resolve the crisis in the Vaal River system. I am happy to report that approval has been granted. The generals in charge have already started working on solutions,” Mboweni said.

 

The Integrated Vaal River System (IVRS) supplies vast areas of Gauteng and the North West with drinking water and supports about 60% of the economy. About 45% of the country’s population lives in the area supplied by water from the IVRS via purification and distribution utility Rand Water.

It is estimated that more than a million people live in the Fezile Dabi (Sasolburg, Zamdela & Parys)and Sedibeng districts, including Midvaal, Vereeniging, Vanderbijlpark and adjacent townships. The Vaal River is severely polluted where it runs through these districts.

 

According to the environmental pressure group, Save the Vaal Environment (SAVE) about 150-million litres of sewage spills into the Vaal via its Rietspruit tributary every day, endangering the health of thousands of local residents. Raw sewage also continues to gush into the Vaal River at various other points from Vereeniging to the Vaal Barrage, despite an undertaking given in mid-July by the national and provincial governments to give the crisis serious attention.

 

The Human Rights Commission recently held an inquiry into the pollution of the river after a site inspection revealed a prima facie violation of the rights of access to clean water, a clean environment and human dignity.

 

The hearings are expected to continue in November. The Emfuleni municipality has asked for an urgent financial intervention to, among other things, repair the pump stations that transport sewage to the wastewater treatment plants.

 

 

Also read SAVE’s response to the Finance Minister’s Mid Term Policy Statement regarding the Vaal River pollution crisis (media release received from Maureen Stewart of SAVE):

 

SAVE the VAAL ENVIRONMENT welcomes any initiative that will deal swiftly and efficiently to stop the ongoing Vaal River pollution crisis. We are, therefore pleased that the Minister of Finance recognises the need for urgent action and announced the deployment of the SANDF to deal with this national disaster. The key to success is speedy availability of the required funding from National Treasury.

The Gauteng Province’s partial administration of Emfuleni Municipality was announced in June. SAVE met with the Gauteng COGTA team and provided a list of the emergency repairs required. There was little action until the last weeks of September when work started slowly and a tender was issued for civil work in October. Raw sewage has continued to gush into the Vaal River since January. This morning, SAVE was informed of yet another new major spillage into the Klp River at Vereeniging from a dysfunctional

pump station.

We trust the intervention of the SANDF will result in speedy resolution of the infrastructural failures that have caused the pollution. However and that National Treasury will support these efforts with the required funding without any further delays.. This, together with engineering expertise, sufficient manpower and a sense of urgency to repair and replace broken infrastructure is the only way to stop the sewage pollution crisis, which is causing environmental devastation and abuse of human rights.

The deployment of the army will be most useful in preventing theft and vandalism of municipal infrastructure. This criminal activity is rife and has contributed to the crisis. Thieves killed a security guard at the Rietspruit Waste Water Treatment Plant when they were caught in the act of attempting to steal cables recently.

The medium and long term, plans for the much-needed development of new infrastructure to cater for housing development also need to be prioritised. Plans presented at the Human Rights Commission were vague and lacked essential information such as implementation

and completion dates. The Government team at the HRC enquiry admitted that there was no available budget for this project, estimated at R5 billion (and growing) for the completion of the long term Sedibeng Regional Sewage System (SRSS) project. Mention was made of approaching the new infrastructural fund announced by the President recently.

The SRSS will facilitate the Department of Human Settlement’s expansive housing programme where thousands of houses are planned but for which Emfuleni does not have the capacity to provide service delivery. It will also stimulate economic growth and allow further development of the area.

The SRSS extends beyond the construction of two modules at the Sebokeng Waste Water Treatment Plant. In a TV interview recently, Gauteng MEC: COGTA, Mr. Uhuru Moiloa appeared to believe that this construction work would deal with all the ills of Emfuleni’s sanitation system. In fact, this expansion is but a small part of the SRSS. Mr. Moiloa also assured viewers of the TV news programe (channel 195) that the current situation with respect to the Vaal River sewage pollution “is not a crisis”. Certainly, Minister Tito Mboweni sees it as a crisis.

The rehabilitation of the Vaal River, specifically the Klip and Rietspruit tributariesm which have become sewer pits, need be dealt with as a matter of urgency, especially in view of the serious health and food security implications of this toxic silt.

SAVE will monitor progress closely, but at this stage, before we know more detail, it would be premature to go to court. If we are not satisfied that that there is real and speedy action to confront the pollution problems, the papers will be finalised, and we will be back in court.

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