Media Statement
Department of Water Affairs
30 September 2010

To All Media

The Department of Water Affairs (DWA) wants the South African public to know that Gauteng will not run out of water in the near future, it is also incorrect to say that 80% of South Africa’s water will be so polluted that it will not be possible for it to be treated to potable quality and that the Gauteng province will be worst affected as the Environment Conservation Association claims. Gauteng has a world class water system boosted by importing water from places such as KwaZulu-Natal and Lesotho. The water is purified to standards that comply with the department’s standards and these standards are fully aligned with the World Health Organization guidelines.

The Department therefore further wishes to dismiss as untrue claims that 80% of South Africa’s water resources will be polluted by 2015 to such an extent that a completely new water source must be found in the next two years. This claim appears to have no foundation or backing of a scientific nature. The Department also has no knowledge of the environmental group having had engagements with government on this matter as it is falsely claimed by members of this organization.

“Our planning teams are continuously planning well into the future for all major towns and cities in the country”, says Nobubele Ngele, the Acting Director General of Water Affairs. In fact the department has just completed a situational analysis of the water situation in the country and has published a report {integrated water resource planning report for South Africa in this regard. With regard to pollution she said that  “ Even if water contains some impurities, it can still be purified up to the SANS 241 standard, the water purification processes in SA is so well advanced that any water regardless of quality can be treated to potable (drinkable) quality”.  “Look at Anglo American” she said “They are successfully treating polluted mine water in Emhlangeni (Witbank) to drinking quality and providing this water to the local municipality”.

The views expressed by these organizations point to a lack of understanding of the water sector and developments over the past few years. The question must be asked as to how this figure of 80% was determined?  Further the threat by Fedusa to go on strike over issues of water quality is bizarre at best. In this regard however the Department acknowledges the right of union members to embark on strike action as they see fit. The Department would also like to warn against opportunistic groupings, some seeking publicity others wishing to capitalize on the fears of the public about the availability of water in Gauteng and South Africa at large in order to secure funding for their organizations.

Ngele says It is unfortunate that the issue of Acid Mine Drainage has become a band wagon for opportunistic groups to get onto. “What is becoming apparent is that this subject which poses a significant challenge is being used to advance   private interests”. The efforts of government to deal with AMD are well known. Earlier this month, the appointment of an inter-ministerial Committee on Acid Mine Drainage was announced by Minister Buyelwa Sonjica to the public. This Committee is tasked with addressing the current challenges of AMD and has already had its first meeting with the aim of charting a way forward. The Department has acknowledged the potential risks associated with mine water management and the need for a lasting solution. An announcement will be made soon through the Inter Ministerial Committee with regard to the work of a panel of experts working on this.

“We can rest assured through these and many other initiatives that the country will not face a water crisis at any time in the future” said Ngele. The Department calls on all concerned groupings, unions and individuals who wish to contribute positively to efforts to protect   this precious resource (water), to engage its officials. In its capacity as custodian of water resources in the country, DWA is committed to averting any potential water crisis.

For more information contact:

Mava B Scott
082 411 9821
scottm@dwa.gov.za

Mariette Liefferink’s Question To Ms Scott

Dear Miss Scott,

We refer to the DWA’s press statement, subjoined hereunder:

Ngele says It is unfortunate that the issue of Acid Mine Drainage has become a band wagon for opportunistic groups to get onto. “What is becoming apparent is that this subject which poses a significant challenge is being used to advance   private interests”.

We would appreciate if the Department of Water Affairs (DWA) can please identify the individuals, opportunistic groups or organizations that use the flooding of the gold mining basins and the uncontrolled decant of AMD from the West Rand Basin to advance private interests.

I take the liberty to copy the international and national news media, and leading NGOs and civil society organizations on this e-mail and hope to be pardoned for my forwardness.  The recipients of this e-mail are however not limited to the abovementioned individuals or organizations.  In subsequent e-mails I shall forward the DWA’s press statement and the Federation for a Sustainable Environment’s above-mentioned request to additional stakeholders and news media.

Respectfully yours,

Mariette Liefferink.
CEO:  FEDERATION FOR A SUSTAINABLE ENVIRONMENT

Nicole Barlow’s Comment

Dear Miss Scott,

I too hope not to speak out of turn, I stand in the shadow of my learned colleague Mariette Liefferink, especially when it comes to AMD, only to wish I had achieved in my time what she has in hers, however, I can only echo her statement hereunder.

It is my understanding, and please excuse me if I’m incorrect, that government is the custodian of all water resources, which includes rivers, pans, dams and lakes.  Therefore I too, am very interested to know which “private interests” would be served by the catastrophic consequences that would follow the decant of the West Rand Basin into our rivers.

As I can only speak for the Environment and Conservation Association, I would like to re-iterate our commitment to finding an urgent solution to South Africa’s looming water crisis, by co-operating with NGO’s, government and all other stakeholders in this regard.  We trust from DWA’s subjoined press release that their invitation to work with government has now been officially extended to ALL relevant and affected parties in this matter, and we (ECA) await an invitation to join the committee to discuss potential solutions.

Yours sincerely,

Nicole Barlow
Chairperson
Environment & Conservation Association

Carin Smit’s Challenge To Ms. Scott/Government

Dear Miss Scott

It is regrettable that government takes the stance that NGO’s and other interest groups pose a threat to governmental claims regarding the water issues facing South Africa. Rather than welcome involvement and collaborate with those who have a direct, sincere and committed interest in seeing the water crisis remedies, governmental claims appear to be hostile, denialist and oppositional.

May I briefly outline what is currently taking place in one of the world’s largest democracies, India:

In 2008 I visited north India on request to offer my services as a volunteer in a project where there are more than 400 severely disabled children.  The majority suffered from cerebral palsy, were blind, deaf, deformed, mentally retarded, epileptic or had autism.  When I saw the status of these children, and the abject poverty facing the families who brought their children for help to the Baba Farid Centre for Special Children, a clinic offering Indian Neuro-therapy to these hapless children, I managed to convince a laboratory in Europe to donate lab-time and started running toxicological tests on the children (see sub-joined article).

Over a two year period our testing uncovered that more than 88% of these children were toxic with uranium levels far above WHO and international safety standards.

When these results were released as front-page news in the Times of India and Hindustan News, two of the largest newspapers internationally, as well as to CNN, BBC News and other international media representatives, the Indian and Punjabi government reacted exactly as our own government is currently reacting to the news.

Punjab health minister Lakshmi Kanta Chawla stated in April last year: “This is not a health subject. We don’t know how children are showing such high concentrations of uranium,… it is for the central government in Delhi to deal with the problem.” The Central Government, in turn, then sent in high ranking officials from the Bhaba Atomic Research Council and the Department of Atomic Energy, who took a few water and hair samples from children in the project in Faridkot and made immediate claims in the media that the uranium levels in Faridkot were well within safety limits and that the children were deformed (see photos below) due to congenital reasons and that their disease could not be blamed on the high levels of uranium.  They claimed that the testing done by the international lab was spurious and they even went ahead and threatened the project with closure if they continued speaking to the media, stating that it was beyond their remit to speak to media or drive research in this matter.

All these claims were made, despite the fact that reputable research was done more than 5 years ago by the University of Amritsar in Punjab, indicating that groundwater and pipe wells were heavily contaminated with uranium and that radon (a daughter of uranium) was elevated in houses in the Bathinda region elevating the risk of cancer in some communities thus affected more than 153 times as they reported on dose rate, cumulative dose and lifetime cancer risk – 15% of dwellings surveyed in Punjab had Radon levels which were in the “range of action” level . (Singh et al. Journal for Radiation Measurements, 39 (2005) 535 – 552.).

In July, 2010, our research was published in a reputable, peer-reviewed journal, Clinical Medicine Insights: Therapeutics, 2010:2 655-661 (12th July, 2010).

Due to pressure brought to bear on the Indian and Punjabi governments, after our research was published in this prestigious, international scientific journal in New Zealand, the comment by LivePunjab became a stark reminder that governments cannot ignore or dismiss the work done at grassroots level by NGO’s, concerned individuals and civil stakeholders: “Joint efforts should be taken by the laboratories and governmental agencies to do follow up studies that evaluate early metal exposure in children who are living in industrial or environmentally endangered regions of the state,” claim LivePunjab.

Only now, for the first time since this story broke in the media, does it appear that the Indian government is taking the matter of high uranium levels in groundwater seriously (http://www.tribuneindia.com/2010/20101003/punjab.htm#4), as other studies have also now been concluded showing that it isn’t just uranium that is elevated in groundwater in this region, but a whole cocktail of other lethal metals and chemicals have also tested out as beyond safety levels.

Today, 18 months later, the Indian government seems to shame-facedly to acknowledge danger,  and reports are that they have started to remedy water supplies as a matter of urgency by planning to install water purification systems in every household in Punjab and have in collaboration with the Punjabi government started to take urgent steps to remedy the situation by passing tighter legislation against the dumping of “black water” into canals and other water sources.  Senior Environmental Engineer for the Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) has recently stated after a surprise checking campaign targeted 6 large industrial units in Patiela, Punjab: “The industries should understand that it is very important to make the rivers, drains and other water bodies of Punjab pollution free in order to build a green, healthy and nature-friendly Punjab for future generations. Hence, all the industrial units of Punjab must comply with the guidelines laid by the PPCB with respect to various types of pollution”, he added.

The sad part of this success story is that in a state with 24 million people, government knew about the water crisis for almost 6 years and millions of women fell pregnant and new babies were born over that period who were exposed to the mutagenic and carcinogenic effects of uranium as well as other lethal metals and xenobiotics materials and nothing was done, until an outside, independent agency (ourselves) went in and at great personal cost and sacrifice, challenged the Indian government.   Please see subjoined media coverage on this matter.

Despite the huge shift in thinking in India about the contamination of its water sources, acid drainage from its many thermal power plants, is still not recognised as the contaminating source – coal, when burnt for energy production, becomes a fly-ash.  This fly-ash is pumped into large, unlined fly-ash dams all over India.  The fly-ash seeps into the ground and down into the aquifer.  On its way down, it has to flow into rock formations rich in uranium.  Acid drainage, similar to what we have on the  (gold) Reef of South Africa,  releases exceptionally high quantities of toxic metals, naturally found in rock formations, such as arsenic, lead, nickel and uranium into the pristine underground aquifers and thus poisons an entire nation. Elevated levels of nitrates associated with agricultural use, can also be to blame for the acid levels in the water.

Interestingly enough, wealthy captains of industry in Punjab are making the same claims that Ms. Scott is making with regards to NGO’s, concerned individuals and civil stakeholders: “Umrao Singh, president of the Sugar Division of Chadha Estate, denied the allegations (that his liquor industry is causing severe water pollution in the region)He claimed that certain local leaders had been creating a hue and cry unnecessarily for their vested interests. He claimed that the Punjab Pollution Control Board had collected water samples from the area, which were found fit for use. The hazardous waste and air pollution are being managed as per the directions of the board”, he claimed’.

Oceans and thousands of kilometers divide us, yet, when culpability or acknowledgement of wrong has to be apportioned or accepted, similar games are played and the helpless and hapless, the poor and the marginalized suffer!

Similar claims as the one above (see subject-line) that SA’s water crisis is dire, are currently being made in India (Punjab, which means Five Rivers, has been faced with the total destruction of its pristine water sources “The Energy Research Institute, a New Delhi think tank, says that already in an agriculture-based state such as Panjaab in the north, 98 percent of ground water has been exploited. The Forum for Bio-Technology and Food Security adds that if the trend continues, the once fertile Panjaab- once known as the country’s granary – will turn into a desert,” reports Witness84.com (http://www.witness84.com/water).  At least India’s central and regional governments seem to be listening – will South Africa’s government fail this test?

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