Sunday, April 18, 2021

Death by water

Government is sitting on damning information revealing that scores of Batswana have died as a result of drinking Water Utilities Corporation contaminated water.

Government officials were this week caught in a web of lies and deceit they have woven in an attempt to conceal the extent of Botswana’s portable drinking water safety crisis.

Although the Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources (MMEWR), Kitso Mokaila, recently told parliament and the media that Water Utilities Water is safe to drink, Sunday Standard investigations have turned up documents revealing that government is aware that scores of Batswana have caught their deaths and diseases from the corporation’s contaminated drinking water.

A letter from the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr Koolatamo Malefho, addressed to the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources dated 6th July 2012 states, “this serves to draw your attention to the worrying trend of contaminated drinking water throughout the country. As you are well aware, microbiological contamination contributes to water borne diseases such as diarrhoea, especially among children”.

In the letter, a copy of which was passed to the Managing Director of Water Utilities Corporation, Godfrey Mudanga, Dr Malefho blames scores of deaths and diseases during last year’s diarrhoea outbreak in the Ngami area on contaminated water: “We are currently experiencing an outbreak in the North West District (Ngami) that has resulted in unnecessary morbidity (diseases), and mortality (deaths). Water contamination has been identified as a contributor to the increased cases of diarrhoea in these districts.

Dr Malefho’s letter paints a crisis situation: “From 24th to the 28th of April 2012 there was a localised outbreak of diarrhoea in Omaweneno Village in Kgalagadi South. This outbreak affected mainly the primary school children but our weekly report did indicate that children under five were also affected. This localised outbreak was due to a contaminated water tank supplying the village and the contamination was indeed confirmed at the food laboratory. We have also received reports of increased cases of diarrhoea from the districts, notably Kweneng East, mainly Molepolole, as well as Chobe.”

Sunday Standard investigations have also turned up another letter from the South East District Council dated May 2010, suggesting that patients and Ramotswa and Mogobane clinics were drinking contaminated WUC water. The letter addressed to the Director, Water Utilities Corporation states: “Borotsi Health Post standpipe located at garden and Mogobane clinic standpipe located between the maternity ward and consultation room failed the tests.”

The letter written by the Council Secretary further states, “we call upon your office to facilitate remedial action after which we will resample to ascertain compliance”.

A Botswana Bureau of Standards survey of the microbiological status of Water Utilities Corporation portable water conducted in 41 towns and villages in Botswana, including Gaborone, reveals that the extent of unsafe drinking water in Botswana has reached crisis proportions. On a scale of zero to 100, with zero being totally unfit to drink and 100 being fit to drink, the average for all the 41 towns and villages was 28.

A number of major villages among them Kanye, Tlokweng , Moshupa, Tsabong, Good Hope, Hukuntsi and Bokspits scored zero indicating that their portable water supplied by Water Utilities Corporation was very unsafe to drink. Other villages that scored zero were East Hanahai, Metsimantsho, Ncojane, Charles Hill, Karakubis, New Xanagas, Digawana, Rahuna, Takatokwane, Ditshegwane, Moshaneng, Hatsalatladi, Monwane, Lekgwabe, Tshane, Lehututu and MiddlePits also scored a zero.

The BOBS audit report also revealed that Kang portable water, which scored a hundred, was safer to drink compared to the Gaborone portable water, which scored 75, making it barely safe to drink.

According to a Monthly Compliance Report compiled by WUC’s Technical Services Department (Water Quality Section) in December 2012, none of the sampled 15 management centres (towns and villages) attained 100 percent compliance. In fact, some villages which previously scored better had now gone down in compliance ratings.

Areas such as Lobatse and Molepolole had scored 100 from samples taken early 2012 but by December 2012 their compliance ratings had gone down to as low as 44.4 percent. Gaborone’s compliance was the highest at 90 percent from samples taken at Diremogolo reservoir, followed by Selibe Phikwe at 80.6 percent. Francistown’s compliance stood at 72.4 percent followed by Masunga at 60.6 percent.
The rest were as follows: Kanye 52.4 percent, Kasane 42.3 percent, Mahalapye 58.6 percent, Mochudi 41.2 percent, Palapye 55.9 percent and Serowe 50 percent.

The report further indicates that areas such as Letlhakane, Gantsi and Tsabong were not rated because no sampling was done in those areas. Even though WUC has always justified its exorbitant tariffs and pointed to the ‘expensive’ chemicals used to clean the water, the Corporation’s Water Quality Section found out that the water supplied to customers had insufficient chlorine. All the sampled areas failed microbiological parameters. It was recommended that the areas needed disinfection and a boost of chlorine levels to above 0.6 mg/l.

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