DM168

PROVINCIAL DISASTER AFTERMATH

Flood-ravaged KZN communities turn to NGOs after a fortnight without water supply

A landslide in Pulane informal settlement, La Mercy, which destroyed more than 20 houses and displaced 150 people. (Photo: Victoria O'Regan)

In the aftermath of the catastrophic floods that wreaked havoc in parts of KwaZulu-Natal, many communities in the province’s north coast region are finding themselves in what can only be described as a situation dripping in irony. After experiencing torrential rainfall and flooding that claimed hundreds of lives and decimated infrastructure, many are now without access to water. In Tongaat and some surrounding areas, residents have not had access to water for nearly two weeks, and are relying on non-profit relief efforts and municipal water tankers. 

A muddy watermark reaching near the roof of the home of a young couple in Tongaat puts into perspective the havoc caused by the devastating floods that hit KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) about two weeks ago. Areas in Tongaat, a town on KZN’s North Coast, which were flooded with water to near rooftop levels, have now been left with no water, resulting in residents scrambling for every possible limited water source alternative available to them. 

In the town, which is located about 40 kilometres from Durban and forms part of eThekwini Municipality, residents line the pavements carrying five-litre bottles, in search of alternative water sources. The roads they walk are a stark reminder of the devastation that came merely two weeks prior; reeds from river banks are strewn across potholed roads lined with muddy patches and intermittently working robots. 

The province was severely hit by floods that left more than 430 people dead, destroying more than 6,000 homes. Since the floods — the worst South Africa has yet seen — the residents of Tongaat and surrounding areas have been relying on organisations such as Gift of the Givers and municipal water tankers for drinking water, as well as measures by private companies to create additional water supplies. 

Tongaat Water Treatment Works was decimated during the raging floods, resulting in water supply being cut off to areas including Tongaat Central, Gandhi’s Hill, Belvedere, Flamingo Heights, Watsonia, Sandfields, Buffelsdale, Emona and Hambanathi. According to eThekwini Municipality’s spokesperson, Msawakhe Mayisela, all pumps and electrical equipment at the plant “was damaged beyond repairs.”

Community members from Flamingo Heights, one of the areas without water supply, fill 5-litre bottles with water from the water treatment plant in Brake Village, Tongaat, on 25 April 2022. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

Mayisela explained that all people living in the above-mentioned areas, along with several others, currently have no access to water. In the interim, the Municipality is supplying all these areas with water tankers, according to Mayisela.

At this stage, it is unclear when the Water Treatment Works will be repaired and water supply restored, as re-building the plant “will take time as it requires a full plant design”, said Mayisela. The projected cost for repairs to water supply infrastructure in the area is approximately R45-million, he said.

“An exact time frame cannot be provided yet,” he added. 

Meeting the water demand gap, private water treatment company Ametis Projects, sponsored a temporary water treatment facility located along the Amanzimnyama River in Brake Village, Tongaat to assist with providing relief where the municipality fell short. According to Theo Erasmus, from Ametis Projects, the package plant was installed on Saturday, 16 April with assistance from eThekwini Municipality, and began producing water on 20 April. 

“eThekwini Municipality supplied the security, built a shelter for the plant and has installed seven additional JoJo tanks to which the plant can supply water into… All parties worked together to make the package water treatment plant operational and sustainable,” Mayisela told DM168

The raw water pipeline leading into the Tongaat water treatment works that was destroyed during the floods. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

DM168 visited the Ametis plant on 23 and 25 April and witnessed queues of locals holding bouquets of five-litre plastic water bottles. The facility is a great relief to some of the more than 40,000 residents of Tongaat who are anticipated to be without water supply for several months.  

“I’m producing 6,000 litres an hour — that’s the best I can do. I mean, it’s a package plant, it’s not a fully-fledged water works. But at least it’s 6,000 litres that wasn’t here before,” explained Erasmus.

While the water from the Ametis plant is intended for nonconsumption, Erasmus said that eThekwini Municipality was in the process of testing water samples to determine the quality. 

In response to queries from DM168, Mayisela said the results from the water samples indicated that although the final water clarity was above 1NTU (it should be below), this was not a major health hazard to the people, but it is advisable that the water be boiled before usage.

Among the town’s dwellers relying on the plant for water, is Stefanie Raj who visited the treatment facility after a borehole water point at Haven of Rest — a local civic organisation — had temporarily exhausted its reserves. 

Raj told DM168 that being without water for the past two weeks had been a major challenge, as she was still reeling from the damage caused to her home by the floods. 

“It’s been the worst time ever in my life, I’ve never experienced something like this,” the 39-year-old said while waiting in line to collect water for her household of six people.

“It’s been really hard because obviously, we’ve got to buy all our [drinking] water. We cannot lose this water. This is basically used for washing clothes and boiling the water when you wash your dishes and to bathe. So it’s been very, very, very tough. Our house is still badly damaged. Where I live, the walls collapsed, the mud has overflown into our yard and my house got so damaged; everything in the house on the lower ground is damaged,” she said. 

Raj added that despite her personal challenges of water shortages, it was important for the community to rally together and also help those who could not help themselves. For some, the distance is too far to carry litres of water, while others are too elderly, sick or frail. In an effort to ensure that all Tongaat residents have access to water, community members and local businesses are using their own resources, time and energy to ensure water is distributed to affected areas. 

When DM168 visited the temporary plant in Brake Village, several bakkies surrounded the vicinity as locals waited to fill tanks with water to then distribute to the members of the community. 

Displaced residents from Pulane informal settlement, La Mercy, whose homes were destroyed in a landslide during the floods, are being temporarily housed in La Mercy Community Hall. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

Indrem Govender who works at a local hardware store, Dick’s Hardware, said the store saw a need to help the community and grabbed the opportunity, delivering water to deeply affected areas. In a day, Govender and fellow volunteers deliver up to about 10,000 litres of water a day to hundreds of families. 

“It’s really sad to see how many people have no water, and the municipal tankers are not everywhere. It’s so nice to see that the town is rallying together and that all these guys are carrying these cases and filling water and taking it to the people in need. We’re just trying to help where we can. We were born and brought up here, so we know exactly where water is needed now,” Governder told DM168

Local security company, Jikelele Security, has been keeping guard of the temporary facility to prevent any theft and potential threats as several water tankers around the province have been rocked by safety threats as the province faces severe water shortages, with some drivers having been killed while delivering water to some communities. 

“We’ve got a WhatsApp group, with people who require water [and] we dispatch vehicles there. The moment we’ve covered that area, there’s another lot we dispatch, so we follow a system,” Derek Naidoo, head of Jikelele, told DM168

In the interim, eThekwini Municipality has plans to procure a 15Ml/day package plant that will enable it to purify raw water to provide some relief to the affected areas. The municipality is also planning to use Hazelmere Dam as an alternate source, to supply water from Hazelmere water treatment works to Mamba Ridge, Belvedere and Nyaninga, according to Mayisela.

Dr Imtiaz Sooliman, founder and chair of organisation Gift of the Givers told DM168 however that adding a new pipeline would create problems as the water would not reach some areas such as informal settlements. Dr Sooliman said the organisation was assessing drilling boreholes in the area that would supply the town and those left behind by the temporary water infrastructure. 

He added that if the foundation’s borehole was strong enough, Gift of the Givers would be able to supply quality drinking water to the residents of Tongaat, including those that are further from municipal supplied water tankers, as an emergency relief measure while other temporary solutions were being developed. 

“So [eThekwini is] trying to divert water from other facilities to come to Tongaat. When they do that, it’s gonna be water shedding for some of the other areas nearby. So if parts of Tongaat get water, it will put pressure on other parts of Tongaat and other towns nearby. So that raises a challenge,” the founder said. 

For housewife Vani Govender a borehole would be of great relief to not only her but the health of her 26-year-old daughter who is on dialysis. Govender told DM168 that she was not in a position to put a water tank in her home at the moment. Govender’s home, whose neighbour is the Wewe River, was flooded to the roof leaving structural damage to the house. Upon arrival at her residence, the home was emptied out, almost all appliances and furniture having landed on the river bank. The few surviving items were being cleaned of muck and left out to dry in the yard. 

“I need water in order for the builders to work. So that’s my priority. eThekwini came now and turned on my lights. I have a high-pressure hose, another guy lent me a bakkie and another high-pressure hose. I’m cleaning myself…the faster I can work the faster I can bring my child home,” the 52-year-old said. “If we don’t have water, I can’t build and this is our safe haven; that’s it.”

Strength in unity

Beyond the infrastructure damage, some families in the North Coast region have been left without homes, and those whose homes have survived have been unable to feed themselves due to the damage to their households. While some Tongaat residents have been fortunate enough to have food delivered to their homes by civic organisations, many have been left destitute in La Mercy Community Hall where more than 150 people from Pulane Settlement are seeking refuge and are dependent solely on donated meals. 

Netty Gcaba, whose home in Pulane informal settlement in La Mercy was badly damaged during the floods. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)

Netty Gcaba, whose home in Pulane informal settlement was badly damaged, told DM168, “We’re really happy, even with the way in which [the La Mercy ratepayers have] cared for us considering our circumstances. I’ve been to other displaced community halls and have seen that even though we have problems, their situation is much harder because there’s so many of them.

“The way in which they’ve helped us has shown us that by being united, especially from different structures, the community can achieve a lot. The ratepayers have brought the premier to us so that he can address us and deal with certain issues, which has also helped with having some of our needs met,” Gcaba, who is the community leader for the displaced, said. 

Those displaced from Pulane settlement are being housed in a hall a mere kilometre from the home of KZN premier, Sihle Zikalala who was recently reported to have been hogging water meant for destitute communities. 

The Pulane residents have been relying on organisations such as the Al-Imdaad Foundation to provide meals while they wait to hear where their new homes will be. 

“The Al-Imdaad Foundation has been activated by disaster management and there was a big cry for water. So we brought in water and, at the same time, while we came here and did an assessment with the committee that’s working with the church groups and the mosques and the temples, then we brought in some food items that were needed to fill in. However, from what we’ve been told, there are many organisations already taking care of food and the situation here [at La Mercy hall],” Abed Karim, from the Al-Imdaad Foundation told DM168.

He added, “Leave alone infrastructure, leave alone all the other aspects, we’re talking about human beings and looking at humanitarian needs. It’s a very great need on the ground.” DM168.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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