GRAAFF-REINET NEWS - After several months of the erratic and often non-existent water supply from the boreholes serving Graaff-Reinet, residents have had enough.
Since the dam effectively ran dry early in February, the high-lying areas such as Queen Street and Umasizakhe have been without water for days at a time, with sometimes just a trickle coming through during the night. Water pressure is low even in areas that have a relatively consistent supply, as the boreholes struggle to keep up with the demand.
At the end of March, the dam level stood at under 2%, with the 20 boreholes in production taking strain. There is hope that more boreholes, currently out of commission, will be resuscitated soon, but this has not been confirmed. In the meantime, residents are suffering, and just this week, many parts of town were again without water on Monday, with no explanation forthcoming from anyone in authority.
The municipality have four water trucks, and in theory, have been sending these to affected areas on a regular basis. However, whilst offering some relief, these also bring potential problems.
One Umasizakhe resident, Xolile Speelman, voiced the concerns of many about the health risks that many are unwittingly exposed to by drinking this water. "We worry that the water could be contaminated. People stand in line for their buckets to be filled, and when the queue is long, the municipal workers try to hurry things along by just dipping the buckets into the JoJo tanks to fill them," explained Speelman.
"Nobody knows how clean and sanitary those buckets are, or what they were last used for." he continued. He went on to explain that when there is no water to flush the toilets, many people are urinating into buckets, and he fears that these could well be the same buckets used to collect drinking water. "When the buckets are dipped into the tanks, the water is then contaminated for everyone," he said. "Even if they have not been used for urine, people usually leave their buckets that they use for washing outside, and they still pollute the drinking water."
Another Umasizakhe resident, Zuko Kedamile, feels that the community’s basic human rights have been violated, with no access to fresh water. He raised the fact that children are often sent home early from school as there is no water for the toilets, and thus the children are missing a lot of work and will battle to get through the necessary syllabus before exams.
Another complaint about the water trucks, voiced by residents in Asherville, Umasizakhe and town, is that the municipality is unable to produce a timetable of when the tankers will be available in each area. Many people miss the tankers, and older folk in particular find that they often hear by word of mouth that there is a tanker in the area, but arrive too late and it has already moved on.
Adendorp residents are adamant that they have never even seen a water truck in the area. The problems first started there towards the end of February, after a planned 12 hour shut-down of the water supply for maintenance. "After this, the water was off for an entire week, with no warning, and no water truck came to the area at all," said angry resident Natalie Davenport. "Ever since then, our water stinks like raw sewage, is off every second or third day without warning, and the pressure is shockingly low.".
The lack of communication, and failure of the municipality to notify the affected areas of the problems, is a major cause of frustration for residents, many of whom say they have resigned themselves to keeping a few buckets of water filled in case of emergency, waking up every morning to a sort of lottery of "will there or won’t there be water?"
The failure of the majority of residents to adhere to the water restrictions only exacerbates an already critical water shortage. Many people to not seem to realise the seriousness of the drought situation, and are seen washing cars with hosepipes, watering lawns and even filling swimming pools. Guest houses have reported that they have had to resort to using the water from their pools to fill buckets for guests to use to flush toilets, and all the carefully-conserved rainwater in tanks has been used weeks ago. Yet not a single fine has been issued for failure to adhere to the water restrictions.
The quality of the water coming out of the taps (when there is any) is also a huge cause for concern, despite repeated claims from the municipality that it is safe to drink. Discoloured and offensive-smelling water is common, with even reports of small red worms coming out of the taps. This problem is still rife in Umasizakhe, according to residents.
While we wait for rain to fill the dam, the pleas from the community to the municipality are for improved communication, a timetable for water trucks, control of the distribution from water trucks to protect the integrity of the drinking-quality water, and enforcement of water restrictions to conserve the limited resources available.
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