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'Cholera risk' in South Africa

1st December 2008

South Africa may be at risk of a cholera outbreak, due to gross underinvestment in water management.

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Many South Africans do not have access to running water, and cholera spreads rapidly if water supplies are contaminated.

However, there is no evidence that the South African water supply is currently contaminated with cholera.

Anthony Turton, a leading South African scientist, said that the country must increase its spending on water management in order to avoid disaster.

In Zimbabwe, a recent outbreak of the disease has killed at least 300 people.

Turton compared the situation in Zimbabwe with the situation in South Africa, saying that unless changes were made, the country was headed for disaster.

Turton lost a position with the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) last week.

The CSIR denies having sacked Turton and maintains that his presentation of the evidence for his conclusions used inappropriate material, and that he has made inappropriate statements to the media.

In his presentation, Turpan used an image of a person being executed using a burning tire placed around their neck.

Although a number of organizations have come to Turton's support, the CSIR questions his scientific argument.

Turton is called a "present-day giant" in a petition calling for his reinstatement to the CSIR, launched by the Federation for a Sustainable Environment, supporting his claims that South Africa is heading for a significant crisis in the water sector.

After decades of mining, heavy metals and other pollutants have left South Africa's water supply undrinkable.

Since the 1980s, funding for the South African water supply has dropped dramatically.

Turton says that the South African government has failed to do its job in order to provide its citizens with running water.

In the last several decades, South African funding for resevoirs, pump stations, and water treatment facilities has fallen.

South African spending on water peaked at US$4,000m in the 1980s.

In the 1990s this number fell by more than half, and again by more than half in the 2000s, to about US$400 million.

According to local government officials, the water at the town of Musina and the crossing of Beit Bridge shows no signs of cholera contamination.

But Barbara Hogan, the South African health minister, said that nearly 200 cases of cholera have been reported.

Through the past few decades, many municipalities in South Africa have lacked engineers, and retiring qualified engineers, most of whom were white, were not replaced at all, Turton's report claims.

The situation continues today with young white engineers unable to find jobs, as a result of affirmative action, the reports says.



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