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River of bacteria …

A South African study pinpoints what’s polluting the water.
Apies river downstream of the informal settlement and the village of Hammanskraal. Image: Author supplied

In 2010, the United Nations recognised access to clean water and sanitation as a fundamental human right. However, over 4.1 billion people around the world, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, still do not have access to this human right.

Clean and safe water is necessary for basic life functions — for drinking, for cooking, for bathing, and more. When it is not available, people resort to alternative sources, which are often polluted with pathogenic bacteria arising from human waste. Using such water exposes people to waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea.

In cities, most households have access to treated water and good sanitation services. However, over 340 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, mostly in rural communities and informal settlements, do not. They may rely on rivers, lakes, and streams for their. In addition, over 270 million practise open defecation or have poorly constructed toilets. Most have no choice but to defecate outdoors, often disposing of their faeces directly into rivers — the same ones they use as sources of water.

We, a group of researchers in South Africa, wanted to know more about how different human activities around rivers in the country affected the microbial quality of the water. We wanted to understand the extent to which informal settlements, where access to basic sanitation and hygiene is limited or absent, affected the presence of waterborne bacteria.

We set out to explore how different human activities, such as sewage treatment plants, informal settlements and agriculture, affected the microbial quality of river water. We also used a mathematical model to show whether people could get sick from drinking untreated water from the river. We looked at E. coli as the indicator organism and Vibrio, Salmonella and Shigella as pathogenic organisms. Indicator organisms indicate the possible presence of pathogens, which are microorganisms that can cause disease.

Our research found that in informal settlements where sanitation and waste management facilities were absent, a high number of bacteria were often present in the water of the river we studied. Some of these bacteria were pathogenic forms of E. coli, which, when consumed, could make people sick. We also observed that the people living there frequently used the river water, without any treatment, for personal hygiene such as bathing and brushing their teeth. The river was also often used for rituals, which involved immersing oneself several times into the water as a form of spiritual cleansing.

Samples from before and after activities

The Apies river takes its source from the south of the city of Pretoria (one of South Africa’s three capital cities) and flows towards the north of the city, before joining the Pienaars River. Samples were collected at ten different sites along the river. These sites were situated upstream and downstream from the different human activities we looked at. We tested the water in the laboratory for the presence of microorganisms.

There are numerous sewage treatment facilities that discharge wastewater directly into the river. At times the discharged water is not treated due to system failure, or poorly treated when overloaded. The river also receives waste from informal settlements situated along the riverbanks, either directly through dumping or indirectly from surface runoff during heavy rainfall. These informal settlements are unplanned and the houses are sometimes built on illegally owned land, usually not built according to regulations. So they do not have waste management services.

This river is also used for irrigation. Villagers in the rural communities – areas that are subdivided into “tribal” areas and commercial farms and usually have few houses – use the river water for their cattle too. The informal and rural settlements use the river directly to dump their waste – including faeces – and for personal and household hygiene.

Cattle and water
Cows using the water from the rural community of Potwane in the North.
Image: Author supplied

We isolated all the tested organisms in the water and sediment samples collected from this river. We found that the number of bacteria isolated before the water passed through informal settlements was lower compared to the number when the river had passed through the settlement. This was because of the lack of toilets in the settlement, forcing the communities to use the river as a toilet. We also found higher numbers of bacteria when the river received wastewater from the sewage treatment facilities. This shows that the treatment plant was discharging poorly treated water containing faeces in the river.

Getting sick is almost guaranteed

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that there should be zero E. coli in water meant for drinking. But we found up to 1 million E. coli cells in 100ml of water collected downstream for the informal settlement and sewage treatment facility sites. According to the mathematical model, someone who ingested as little as 1ml of untreated water had almost a 100% chance of getting sick during the rainy season – leading to school absences and missed days of work.

People living in informal settlements and rural areas need to be made aware of the negative impact of open defecation, especially directly into rivers. Where there is no alternative water source, they should be advised to treat the water, for example by boiling it before use.

Governments need to ensure that people living in rural communities and informal settlements have access to toilets and clean water. This can be done by building community toilets or providing them with mobile toilets, where construction may not be possible. Governments also need to ensure that sewage treatment facilities, where available, are functioning correctly to avoid the discharge of poorly treated water containing harmful bacteria and faeces into rivers.

The Department of Water and Sanitation of South Africa must also ensure that wastewater treatment plants adhere strictly to Section 39 of the National Water Act, 1998, which provides guidance for quality and management of wastewater.The Conversation

Akebe Luther King Abia, Research Scientist, University of KwaZulu-Natal

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.


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Another ANC success story. Well done indeed!

29 NOVEMBER 2020 @ 5:55 PM
29 NOVEMBER 2020 @ 5:48 PM
The bias toward the minority view is most certainly the preference of this website..

29 NOVEMBER 2020 @ 7:55 AM
Moneyweb is evidently employing the new advanced style of censorship? Comments that are too difficult for the admin bot to categorize are simply held indefinitely?
28 NOVEMBER 2020 @ 5:36 PM
Agree about the biggest issue being further pandemic reactions. Dems want lockdowns until vaccinations completed = success for economic suicide and vaccine merchants. But now there is a truth leak that must surely sprag the vaccine merchants and scuttle the prospective bargain business acquisition targets. A high level analysis of the US Covid-19 deaths reveals errors that reduce these numbers into non-existence.
All hands on deck to fix the leak and PR it into river? You bet.
The acceptance of this analysis will have global repercussions.
Comment on story: How Biden might stimulate the sputtering US economy

Comment on story: How Biden might stimulate the sputtering US economy

Comment on story: Lockdowns in SA freed township entrepreneurs to thrive

“The bias toward the minority view…” I find it quite the opposite.

When I use terms such as AA/BEE and certain demographic truths to describe why SA is slipping back into an African 3rd world country, my comments gets removed.

Section 24 of the SA Constitution provides that everyone has the “right” to a healthy environment, and also the right to have the environment protected from pollution and ecological degradation, which promotes conservation and secures ecologically sustainable development.

Chapter 2 of the SA Constitution of South Africa provides that: “Everyone has the “right” to have access to sufficient food and water.”

Cleary someone’s rights are being trampled in SA.

Whatcha gonna do
When the whiskey ain’t working no more
And life don’t feel like before
Whatcha gonna do
Whatcha gonna do
When the ride ain’t coming no more
Nobody’s beatin’ down your door
Whatcha gonna do

In SA there ain’t nothing you gonna do. There ain’t nothing you can do. The fact that there is not much that is a “right” that ain’t so indicates that these much touted constitutional rights are essentially airy-fairy fuzzy and warm meaningless drivel. The ANC’s ongoing assault, undermining and attrition of constitutional property rights merely serves to confirm this.

Nature provided this wonderfully effective mechanism, called a river, which makes the health of the digestive system reliant upon the mental health of the individual. It is a natural and fair IQ test. If you fail the test, you die of waterborne disease. Collectivist Europeans failed the test constantly during the Middle Ages until the system of property rights delivered accountability, individualism and rule of law to enable communities to escape from famine and waterborne disease.

If a community respects property rights, it testifies that they have passed the most basic IQ test. The fact that people on the African continent constantly suffer from waterborne illnesses validates the statistical data that the people with the lowest average IQ on earth lives as communalists on the African continent, where they demand their basic human rights from other communalists like themselves. This process, in itself, is a failure of a mental exercise.
In modern times, with the abundance of scientific and medical information, cholera and typhoid fever are simply physical manifestations of the substandard average mental capability of a community. It is a basic human right to be stupid, but there are consequences.

In the terrible apartheid times the regulation for informal settlements was that they had to dig a sizable hole (long drop) for their sanitary requirements before they were allowed to build a residence. The problem today is that these illegal squatters have no capital invested and therefor no intension to care of their environment since they can only move to a cleaner place and dirty it up again. So who cares about the environment as long as they vote for the prescribed party.

If a totally independent an objective observer considered the facts on front of him, that the unaccountability inherent to the communalist system enables members of that community to poison themselves, and others, with their laziness, lack of planning and poor hygiene, then that independent observer will conclude that this communalist mindset simply breeds people to die of cholera.

Some people are up in arms about canned hunting. Communalism is the “canned hunting” of women and children of that community. No constitution can protect people against their own inferior cognitive ability. There is some form of prerequisite to claim a basic human right and that is to show some basic form of accountability to be considered as human. Digging a pit latrine qualifies as such a form of accountability.

This article states the obvious without delving into any meaningful solutions to the problem.

All those sitting on their porcelain thrones in a house with their own names on a title deed should take a look down and tell me- what do they see?

If they see that they are defecating into perfectly potable drinking water- then they should know- they are a big part of the problem.

Places them on the verge of falling into the precipice of hypocrites- the worst sinners in the holy books!

The Romans might have invented modern sewage systems, but they certainly did not perfect it- and it is one more of the reasons their own societies were dependent on perpetual war, a throwback that does not seem to have missed modern Western Capitalist systems either…

There simply is not enough fresh water on the entire planet to enable the whole human population to defecate in this self-same way. Face it- man up humano!

The pretty simple process of creating human manure- i.e. compost- from human faeces requires little more than 4 or 5 buckets/ bins and an abundant organic material such as grass, sawdust or leaves used in place of “flushing” with water. Thereafter a specific rotation process over a 6 month period. Basic technology-go on a permaculture course or check out some YouTube videos- learn it. Then go ahead- teach it too!

Perfect compost, beautiful gardens, healthy food. Voila!

Can even sell the organic fertilizer to commercial farmers- the runoff from their intensive farmlands and chemical fertilizers is most damaging to our water resources. Insist that they work more closely with informal settlements and buy their poop and urine off them even!

I urge my fraternity of citizens to put aside their sense of superiority and educate themselves (if not others) in the art, alongside principles like the 2 bucket shower system.

I have seen township gardens popping up all over the show. Most notably, over 12 hectares in Diepsloot.

I think occupants of informal settlements are well open to the processes and solutions- are you?

From where I am sitting on my title deed, I see that the municipal rates and taxes that I pay on that title deed, finance the recycling of water from the modern sewage plant to provide potable water to those without a title deed. The title deed enables the whole efficient and benevolent process.

If you are a member of an economic system that has not yet evolved to the level of sophistication of property rights and title deeds, then you have to take your little shovel and dig a hole to squat under the bush. Tell me, what do you see from where you are sitting under the bush? Do you see that modern sewerage plant that recycles the drinking water to you humble abode without a title deed?

Wouldn’t you also prefer to be sitting on a title deed, rather than on that nettle you are sitting on currently?

End of comments.





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