Kavango River Risks Contamination

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By Surihe Gaomas RUNDU Leakages of highly toxic sewerage water from the Rundu Sewerage Ponds may in the near future cause the contamination of the Kavango River. Black sewerage water gushing out from these ponds and flowing downstream into the river may pose a serious health hazard for the people in the Kavango as well as the neighbouring countries of Angola and Botswana. This worrying concern was raised during President Hifikepunye Pohamba’s visit to the Kavango over the weekend, when he inspected major sewerage ponds at the town. Although this is not the first time the problem of se-werage leakages have been reported to the relevant authorities, it becomes apparent that nothing has been done to address the situation since it was initially detected in 1993. According to the Strategic Executive of Planning Technical Services at the Rundu Town Council, Fanie van der Westhuizen, the situation is so bad that it causes permanent dis-colouring of children’s hair and infection on animals. The water that seeped from the army barracks ponds turned the water black on a stretch measuring about three kilometres along the river. “This black water is all contaminated and has a very foul smell because of the sewerage water. Some of the children swim in this water and villagers wash themselves in it too. But now some of the children have even orange hair because of the toxins in the water, and some white spots have been found on the liver of animals,” he explained. The “black poison” is even killing crops and natural vegetation, he added. The increase of people at Rundu over the years has taken its toll on the sewerage infrastructure, causing blockages and leakages in the reticulation system. “This year the problem is extreme because of the heavy rains we have had, and immediate action must be given to this problem,” said Van der Westhuizen. What makes the situation rather precarious is that it will take 15 years to purify the water system. At some places outside Sauyemwa, polluted streams of water formed pools over which villagers had to cross to reach their destinations by shakily stepping on stones that have been placed as a “pathway” in order not to step directly into the dirty water. Van der Westhuizen explained that it is the so called “hormones” found in the sewerage water that make it so poisonous and these chemicals cannot be extracted from dirty water. With the heavy rains two weeks ago in the Kavango Region and an influx of about 70ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ mm on one bout of rain, the ponds swelled up and overflowed causing more volume of water to be pushed to the riverside. The ponds, which are situated on lower ground, make it difficult to re-channel the water away from the river. All the years, especially during the pre-colonial era, the previous administration took the easier and cheaper route by constructing the sewerage system flow downwards. Now it is more difficult and expensive to re-pump upwards away from the river. “How can you compare human life with cost – you can never do that,” added Van der Westhuizen. During the excursion, the Head of State expressed shock and dismay at how such a problem could never have been picked up throughout the years. “I’m afraid this week our neighbouring countries will know and expect a sharp reaction. I think this situation needs serious attention. I would like to get a full report from you, Governor. Why has it not been reported to my office before,” asked President Pohamba while inspecting the sewerage ponds on Sunday. The Head of State also spoke to a group of children who were standing on the other side of the contaminated black water asking them if they drank and played in the water and whether they knew that it was dangerous to do so. Due to the prevailing circumstances, Rundu is on the brink of running out of fresh water, and Town Council has decided to tap this natural resource from the neighbouring suburb, Sauyemwa.