The City of Tshwane has urged communities in Hammanskraal and surrounding areas to avoid drinking tap water following a cholera outbreak in the area. So far, it has claimed the lives of 15 people, including a three-year-old, and has contributed to rising numbers of cholera cases.
The cholera outbreak has not only affected the Hammanskraal area in Tshwane but also the Free State, where six people have tested positive for cholera in the area after 76 visited clinics and hospitals with diarrheal infections.
Cholera is a bacterial disease causing severe diarrhoea and dehydration, and it is usually spread through contaminated water. A person may get cholera by drinking water or eating food contaminated with the cholera bacterium; thus, the disease can spread rapidly in areas with inadequate treatment of sewage and drinking water.
Get to know the symptoms
According to the National Department of Health spokesperson, Foster Mohale, people generally become ill 12 to 48 hours after exposure with some common symptoms including diarrhoea, cramps, nausea, vomiting, and low-grade fever.
Residents have expressed their frustrations on social media, highlighting that they have been complaining about water for almost a decade. They also say they are unable to afford purified water as boiling the water is not always an option due to the smell the water contains.
‘Water has been bad for years’
Speaking to Health For Mzansi, Thandi Masenge from Hammanskraal, says the water issue started a long time ago, and they have been complaining for years without it being addressed. She has also recently experienced symptoms of cholera.
“The water condition has always been bad in Hammanskraal; sometimes it is dirty and has a very bad smell. I, for one, had a very painful, runny stomach two weeks ago. It was so painful that I could barely stand or walk properly. I didn’t take it to heart and never thought it could be cholera; I just thought it was just a stomach bug or something I ate.
Penelope Maringa, also from Hammanskraal, says that the issue of dirty water has been ongoing for years. She also mentions that she and her son recently went to the local clinic after having diarrhoea for the entire weekend, adding that her son has lost a lot of weight due to the various symptoms they experienced.
The water stinks
Another Hammanskraal resident, Cathy Sundae, says that she has been living in Hammanskraal since 2019, and people have been complaining about the water problem ever since she moved there.
“The water situation in Hammanskraal is so bad that when you boil the water, sometimes it smells like sewage or urine. You can literally smell it from the steam. Some areas do not always have water, and on some days the water comes out looking like some kind of tea because it has a brown colour that is very visible from a glass.”
The bad water affected her son’s health. “On Friday, my 10-year-old son came back home complaining about pain and having diarrhoea. He was weak and couldn’t even eat dinner. I also experienced the signs the next morning. I took some over-the-counter medicine and also gave it to my son, and it was better.
“To control the situation, I went on to buy purified water because, from the moment my son complained, I knew it was water because we don’t usually use tap water for drinking, but my husband recently lost his job and we couldn’t afford to buy the purified water, which costs R1.20 per litre,” explains Sundae.
Sundae further states that this issue is also weighing them down financially and causing children to miss out on education as parents are afraid for their safety if they happen to come into contact with the contaminated water.
Trying to find solutions
Gauteng MEC for health and wellness, Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko, visited Jubilee Hospital in Hammanskraal to ensure that the two additional wards are ready to accommodate patients who could not be immediately admitted on arrival at the hospital.
Mohale says the deputy minister of health, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, and the deputy minister of water and sanitation, David Mahlobo, together with MEC Nkomo-Ralehoko, will visit the patients and also interact with community stakeholders on the short-term methods to prevent further spread. Meanwhile, the government is working on a long-lasting solution to address the supply and water quality crisis in Hammanskraal and neighbouring areas.
According to Dr Lwazi Ndlwana, a water scientist from Johannesburg who works on membrane nanotechnologies for water treatment, environmental pollution has been the greatest threat when it comes to the availability of safe and clean water.
“The main cause of environmental pollution is human action through industrialisation, population growth, and agriculture, which results in the careless disposal of waste into the environment. The improper disposal of waste then finds its way into water streams that supply drinking water treatment plants and into households that cannot properly purify the water prior to consumption,” he says.
Ways to make water safe
Ndlwana explains that there are a few ways to treat water at home to make it safe for consumption:
- Firstly, disinfection, where boiling the water is used to kill viruses and parasites in the water.
- Secondly, filtration modules are also available on the market and can be fitted into household taps. Some of these may contain activated charcoal, ceramic membranes, or polymeric (plastic) membranes. The membranes are responsible for separating hazardous compounds and microbes, producing safe drinking water.
- Activated carbon can also be purchased at hardware shops and can be added directly to a bucket containing the contaminated water to absorb the unwanted contaminants, making the water safe to consume.
- One can also use bleaching methods to disinfect the water; the instructions on the product label need to be followed, to ensure you use the right amount of disinfectant and let the water sit for the recommended amount of time.
Overall, proper education on cholera and clean water is required, especially for children, as it is essential for maintaining good health and preventing diseases. Means of filtration and boiling water can be a few affordable temporary solutions for the majority.