Wednesday, September 30, 2020

“Catastrophic” rupture pollutes Botswana drinking water

Hundreds of thousands of families in Gaborone and across the country are feared to be drinking water contaminated by raw sewage as government tries to hide information about a ‘catastrophic’ rupture that has hits Botswana’s water system

A line carrying untreated raw sewage from Francistown Block 1 has ruptured spilling millions of gallons of septic waste into Tati River and Dikgatlhong Dam possibly introducing dangerous pathogens into Botswana’s rural and urban water systems.

Interviews and documents passed to the Sunday Standard reveal that Water Utilities Corporation (WUC) at one point clashed with the Ministry of Land Management and Sanitation Services which has been sleeping on the information warning it about the “catastrophe.”  

According to a savingram from the director Department of Technical Service under the same Ministry addressed to the Procurement Manager signed by one Mabeleng Mantswe the source of the “catastrophe” is “all the flushed raw sewage from Francistown Block 1 which is being dumped straight into Tati River even to date because the lines have been wiped out.”

Mantswe observed that “thus none of the flushed raw sewerage from Francistown Block 1 reaches the outfall sewer line.”

Sunday Standard has turned up information showing that from Block 1 in Francistown, the raw sewage spills into Tati River which also feeds into Dikgatlhong Dam. Shashe and Ntimbale dams may be also affected because they are fed by the Shashe and Tati rivers which continue further east towards Robelela settlement where they meet and feed the Dikgatlhong Dam. 

In 2015 former Minister of the then Minerals, Energy and Water Resources Kitso Mokaila informed Parliament that Dikgatlhong Dam supplies potable water to Robelela, Tshokwe, Lepokole, Palapye, Serowe, Mahalapye and Greater Gaborone Area. Upon completion of the NSCII pipeline, Dikgatlhong Dam will also supply Molepolole, Thamaga, Moshupa and Kanye areas.

Under pressure from Water Utilities Corporation (WUC) which was racing against time to avoid being caught up in the mess, the Procurement Manager at the Ministry ‘advised’ the Department of Technical Services “to shortlist eligible bidders to compete for the service to allow for competitive bidding within a shorter period.”

“We would like to request from you for a criteria to use in short listing eligible bidders for this work (maintenance of ruptured infrastructure). The reason being that almost all consulting companies are eligible.  Also, we have been cautioned before by PPADB to always put in place the criteria and the reasons for direct and/or shortlisted procurement, hence the reasons we wrote in our Savingram in which we requested for direct appoint,” states Mantswe’s savingram.

He conceded that the situation “is posing serious potential health problems to the immediate environs and can escalate all the way to Dikgatlhong dam if remedial measures are not taken at the earliest opportune. Also, children were spotted swimming in this contaminated water recently, thus, exposing them to serious health hazards.”  

The main outfall sewer line (1.2 metre diameter pipe) is currently held in place by the chambers and if left unattended until the next rains is likely to be washed away resulting in almost the entire city’s sewage being discharged in to the river.

Should this happen, the overall cost of repairing/replacing the main and associated works will cost more than ten times the current estimated cost of repair, over and on top of the contamination of the environment, mainly Tati river which contributes to Dikgatlhong dam,” said Mantswe.

He added that “urgency to resolve this matter has been supported by Water Utilities Corporation who is the custodians of the facilities.”

Calling for the matter to be treated as matter of urgency and explaining the extent of Botswana’s potable drinking water safety crisis, WUC warned the Ministry to treat the situation as a matter of urgency.

“We hereby request from MTC (Ministerial Tender Committee) “to directly appoint Messrs TTCS consulting Engineers (Pty) Ltd who have been awarded the design and construction supervision of water interlinking lines Gerald Estates Blocks 1& 5 in Francistown to provide consultancy design and supervision for the urgent works required for the situation,” states the document from WUC titled ‘Proposed Approach and rational.’

It further warned that “Also, of utmost importance is to expedite remedial measures to this catastrophe…It is advisable to engage them soonest lest they demobilize their design engineers which would mean either going out to open tender, which is time consuming, or paying them re-mobilization fees, which is expensive.”  

“The superiors have several times been warned about this problem and they seem not to take any action and are dragging their feet to attend to this dire situation,” said one of the sources from the ministry who preferred anonymity.

Contacted for comment, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Land Management and Sanitation Services Thatayaone Dedede said he was not aware of the matter because he had been promoted recently as the accounting officer. Interestingly, before his promotion, Dedede was Deputy Permanent Secretary for the same ministry’s project management office.

Several efforts to get a comment about the ‘catastrophe’ from Public Relations Officers, Maikano Osenkeng also failed.

In 2015, Botswana Bureau of Standards (BOBS) Senior Standard Scientist, Zukiswa Raditladi told a workshop seminar held in Francistown that out of 23 districts in Botswana 14 were not complying with the drinking water standards.

In 2012 findings by the US Embassy found water in Botswana to be unsafe for drinking. At the time, The US Embassy got embroiled in a diplomatic storm with the then Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources, Kitso Mokaila declaring that “Botswana water is one of a few in developing countries that you could drink directly from the tap without fear of contracting waterborne diseases,” The US Embassy were unmoved by the government rebuttal and advised its staff not to drink water from Botswana’s waterways. 

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