Deadly Tap Water Kills close to 80 babies in the Eastern Cape

Press statement issued on 24 April 2008

Thursday 24 April 2008 by Ahmed

The Ukhahlamba municipality in the Eastern Cape hesitates to attribute the deaths of 80 babies to the water quality it provides. When the APF visited Elinge in the area in October 2007, a burst sewer pipe had contaminated the water and five people had already died from water-borne diseases.

Johannesburg- Media reports this week that up to 80 babies have died in the Eastern Cape from diarrhoea and complications arising from what would appear to be the contamination of drinking water have led to rearguard caution from the Department of Water Affairs and the affected municipality. They are hesitating to attribute the deaths to the quality of drinking water in the Ukhahlamba municipality. Yet, an official health report submitted to the municipality last week confirmed that water purification works had broken down in October last year.

The Coalition Against Water Privatisation is calling on the municipality to declare the situation an emergency and take immediate action to solve the problem. The provision of bleach, the boiling of all drinking water and the hygiene awareness initiatives are all wind from the same source - the quality of the water. It is admission that water quality in Ukhahlamba does not meet hygiene standard and it is very worrying that the municipality was only moved to action after the deaths of 15 babies was reported to them by the Cloete Joubert Hospital in Barkly East. We cannot allow a situation where our people are forced to drink unsafe water. The municipality must issue a public warning about the danger now before holding the responsibility for more deaths.

When the Coalition Against Water Privatisation visited the community of Elinge in the Eastern Cape in the same October, the community’s drinking water had mixed with sewerage due to a burst pipe and the water was brown. Five community members had by then already died because of the water quality. Fifteen deaths and counting to 80 deaths resulting from diarrhoea and other related complications and the municipality will only now ‘start warning the public‘. The Coalition supports the call by the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Water Affairs for the Human Rights Commission to investigate the situation in Ukhamhlamba District Municipality. The evidence all points to murder by municipal neglect

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