Opinionista Kamela L Mahlakwane 5 March 2019

South Africa’s Catch 22: When choosing to drink water or not carries the same risk – death

While we would prefer our leaders to ensure that every citizen has uninterrupted access to clean water, in the interim, while they sip branded bottled water, the public is urged to practise good hygiene to avoid consuming contaminated water.

In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly approved Resolution 64/292, The Human Right to Water and Sanitation. This resolution affirms water and sanitation rights as “essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights”.

This resolution reiterates the commitment of nations to improving the proportion of people who do not have access to clean water and sanitation. Access to safe and potable water and adequate sanitation are some of the underlying determinants of health, which form part of the right to the highest attainable standard of health.

As election season looms, I take particular interest in how various political parties differ in their ideologies, yet always agree on one thing. None, however, has ever loudly verbalised it. Their common stance is: We shall always have bottled water on our tables at all our events. But only enough for us, the leadership, and none other!” This is confirmed by all the branded bottled water that is always spotted in front of politicians at their “vote-for-me” campaigns.

I must confess, I agree with them in this regard. One has to watch what kind of water one consumes. After all, it is their human right to drink clean water, right? My point exactly.

However, it is unfortunate that this bottled water comes at a price. A hefty one, I must say. In this poverty-stricken country, one is confronted with choosing between buying bread or bottled water. Well, we both know that bread shall win, don’t we?

Dominating the news is saddening footage of service delivery protests, whereby citizens ask for nothing luxurious. All they ask for is a simple provision of clean water. Not to swim in, but to simply quench their thirst for survival. Take a look at what happens in Giyani in Limpopo, Qwaqwa in the Free State, Umzimkhulu in KwaZulu-Natal and Makhanda in the Eastern Cape, and so on. All that these people are asking from the powers that be is, “please quench our thirst, to protect our health”.

These people are seen sharing water sources with animals from rivers. For all we know, these natural sources of water may harbour every possible killer bug imaginable. A ticking time bomb, isn’t it? But until a devastating diarrhoeal outbreak occurs and the vulnerable children vomit their lives away (and die of “natural causes”), these communities may continue being exposed to these water-borne diseases ad infinitum.

Untreated water may harbour many different germs — from bacteria to fungi, viruses to parasites. These organisms, although they mainly cause vomiting and diarrhoea, may manifest into many other dangerous and fatal diseases such as meningitis (inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain), hepatitis (inflammation of the liver), and worse still, paralysis due to poliomyelitis, which is at present almost eradicated. Common Sense 101 states that all water-borne infections are preventable.

Water-borne infections are said to be transmitted through the “faeco-oral route”. Bombastic words, aren’t they? Well, all they mean is “you need to eat poo to become infected”.

But really? Who eats poo in this world? Well, all the human waste in the community, around bushes and river banks are transported to the rivers and lakes during the rainy season. This poo is dissolved in the water source’ Germs continue to survive and multiply. The clean-looking stream of water is what you and I fetch and quench our thirst with, propelling ourselves to early death through projectile vomiting and diarrhoea, dehydration, shock and septicaemia.

While we would prefer our leaders to ensure that every citizen has uninterrupted access to clean water, in the interim, while they sip branded bottled water, the public is urged to practise good hygiene to avoid consuming contaminated water. However, how does one wash hands with contaminated water, anyway? People are advised to make their water safe with these simple purification techniques:

Boil water

If load shedding hasn’t struck again, boiling water kills all infectious organisms.

Use iodine solution

Do we have these available in rural areas, by the way?

Use Bleach

This is a very effective method, and fairly accessible. It is the very same bleach that we use at home, also called Jik.

Use Chlor-Floc

This substance is available in most chemists as powder or tablets, and can also make muddy water clean and safe to drink.

Use water filter

While these are effective for bacteria, they are costly and require regular cleaning.

But if all these fail, the question remains: To drink, or not to drink? If you drink, you risk dying from norovirus. If you don’t drink, you risk dying from dehydration and kidney failure. DM

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