Zambezi Grapples with Infections

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By Petronella Sibeene WINDHOEK The high levels of Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria detected in the Zambezi River and its tributaries towards the end of last year remains a major concern, says the Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Dr Abraham Iyambo. Since the bacteria was detected and the fact that there was a moratorium imposed to enable fish stocks to recover, the Caprivi Region has had to do without fresh-water fish such as Zambezi bream, tiger fish and other species that have provided people with a steady source of protein. In an interview with New Era yesterday, Iyambo revealed the second results from a South African laboratory indicate that the E-coli and salmonella content in the Zambezi waters and its tributaries is still high. Early January this year, the ministry sent water and fish samples to South Africa for further pathology tests. “The second results did not show any improvement. The bacteria content is still high and that is a major concern,” said the minister. Compared to E-coli, the salmonella content in the water has shown a slight improvement. Samples were taken from Mpukano Channel, the Zambezi River, Chobe River, Kasaya Channel and Lake Chisambilo. More results are expected today. The ministry last December approved the closure of fishing activities in the Zambezi. The closed fishing season commenced on December 21 and was supposed to run until January 31 this year, pending the outcome of further laboratory tests. With the latest results, Iyambo said in the meantime it is still unsafe to fish from the Zambezi and its tributaries. But the results from South Africa will determine whether residents in the Caprivi can fish and partake of the fish from the contaminated waters. They will be informed of the situation before this week ends. “By the 15th (February 2007), we will advise the community. We hope the bacteria content will go down,” Iyambo said. E-coli and salmonella, once consumed, can cause bloody diarrhoea and painful abdominal cramps in humans. Commonly found in untreated water, the bacteria can also cause typhoid, amoebiasis, schistosoma or bilharziasis. Iyambo is hoping that the rains in the region have diluted the bacteria content in the Zambezi. The presence of E-coli and salmonella bacteria in water could be due to leakages from sewerage systems and their disposal into water especially for communities living along or near the river, its channels and lakes. Lack of deep latrines have resulted in the water being contaminated because river-side communities are known to relieve themselves in the bush and this results in the run-offs – particularly over the rainy season – contaminating the river. Efforts to get comment from Caprivi Governor Bernard Sibalatani on whether stringent inspections for possible sewerage leakages into water masses were done proved futile as his mobile phone kept on ringing without being answered. The ministry through its regional office has since December 2006 been involved in sensitizing people to boil water used for drinking for at least five minutes or more. People are still requested to report to the office of the regional governor or the nearest clinic should they experience any discomfort such as diarrhoea, headaches, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, fever and possibly blood in faeces. Those living along the Zambezi and its tributaries last year December observed fish with deformities and worm infestations. The deformities of fish mainly caused by worms, according to the minister, have reduced. Despite that, residents are advised not to eat fish with deformities or wounds as they risk falling ill. Since the ban on fishing came into effect last year, the ministry made available two patrol boats to combat illegal fishing. Based on a report from patrolling officers to the ministry, residents along the Zambezi and ‘small rivers’ have been cooperative. A few that would fish illegally had their catchings confiscated.