A new, mushrooming transit camp at Sydenham, Durban.     Motshwari Mofokeng  ANA
A new, mushrooming transit camp at Sydenham, Durban. Motshwari Mofokeng ANA

Lack of clean water puts poor at risk of Covid-19

By SIBONISO MNGADI Time of article published Mar 22, 2020

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Durban - Good hygiene, especially the washing of hands, is said to be an effective way to prevent Covid-19 infection.

But upholding those standards was a pipe dream for some rural communities as they had no running water, said Dr Jo Barnes, a retired epidemiologist.

Barnes was critical of the government for not investing enough in water and sanitation facilities to such communities.

She said it frightened her that clean water, which provided a key line of defence against the virus, was inaccessible to many South Africans.

“Some people in rural areas are already suffering with other deadly diseases which makes them even more vulnerable to Covid-19.”

Barnes said water provision could not be done overnight, especially when the country was in the middle of a health crises. “It takes time. I think we have not done enough.”

Among the hard-hit areas were Ugu District on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, Zululand and uMkhanyakude Districts in the northern parts of the province. In those area, communities relied on tankers and boreholes for their supply of water.

Ntsiki Ntuli, a ward councillor for the Bhobhoyi area, on the outskirts of Port Shepstone, feared that the virus would spread faster once it got to their area.

For many years, water supply has been a challenge for this community. Poor infrastructure and a growing local population has compunded the problems.

“For now, we are trying our best to follow the instructions given by the minister about hygiene. Thus far, we have no reported cases of coronavirus infection, but we are worried about how we will contain it, once it arrives.”

Ntuli acknowledged the efforts by the district and provincial government, especially the more regular water tanker visits and the set-up of JoJo tanks as another water source for residents.

Sizwe Ngcobo, mayor of Ugu District, a water-scarce area, said they were expecting grants from national and provincial governments to plug their problems.

“We do have challenges, but with government assistance, we will soon announce our solutions.”

Mandlenkosi Vilakazi, an induna in Jozini (in the far north of KZN), hoped that the pandemic would spur the government to fast-track the development of basic services.

Vilakazi said they were already battling with health challenges such as malaria and diarrhoea.

The area boasts Jozini Dam and has several wildlife attractions. However, most communities have no access to running water.

“We heard on radio about the virus, and we were told to wash our hands often. But we think carefully before use water because it is very scarce.

“Maybe this pandemic will make the government realise that we also need water like other people.”

Vilakazi is doubtful about the quality of water they are able to collect at times from streams because those sources were also used by livestock and other animals.

Lungi Matshali, the spokesperson for the KZN Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, which handles national disaster issues, said financial resources had been released to prevent infection.

She said municipalities would apply emergency procurement procedures to ensure the delivery of essential services that may be required to contain the spread of the virus.

“Each municipality has its disaster contingency fund, which will be now used to provide required services.”

Matshali said funds from the National Treasury were also expected and they await an announcement from the minister.

“For now, all the municipalities have been given the approval to access their contingency funds,” she said.

Sunday Tribune

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