HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION RELEASES REPORT INTO VAAL RIVER SEWER CHALLENGES

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Commission conducts site visits to municipality’s Waste Water Treatment Works.

THE South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) on Wednesday (17 February 2021) launched the final report of the Gauteng Provincial inquiry into the Sewage Problem of the Vaal River.

This comes after the SAHRC was alerted to media reports about raw sewer spillages into the Vaal River between July and August 2018. The media reports stated that the pollution stemmed from all three Emfuleni Local Municipality (ELM) Waste Water Treatment Works (WWTW) and malfunctioning sewer networks.

Addressing the media at the Sebokeng WWTW, the SAHRC Gauteng Provincial Office Manager, Buang Jones said the launch of the report is part of ongoing efforts to assist the municipality and other stakeholders to find lasting and implementable solutions to the ongoing environmental crisis.

“We have released a report complete with findings and recommendations which the three spheres of government must respond to within a period of 60 days. The report has outlined several key priorities for government to prioritize,” Jones said.

Among other focal points, the report highlighted the need for an urgent and comprehensive intervention, over and above the current section 139 intervention by the Gauteng Provincial Government.

As a short-term intervention, the SAHRC further recommended that the National Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation (HSWS) or the Gauteng Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), together with experienced wastewater management specialists, and respective Treasury Departments, draw up a cost-effective interim plan to urgently stop or limit the flow of sewage in the streets and homes of people living in Emfuleni. For medium to long term interventions, the Commission recommended that National and Provincial governments conduct a detailed needs assessment for the clean-up and rehabilitation of the Vaal River.

Citing a challenge of infrastructure theft and vandalism as one of the root causes for sewer spillages in the area, Jones said the report was precedent setting in connection with a directive to declare all WWTW in Emfuleni as critical infrastructure in terms of the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act 8 of 2019. This means that, any person caught vandalizing the WWTW infrastructure could be sentenced to a maximum of 20 years imprisonment. 

“Our mandate is to assist government in dealing with the challenges their facing. Our work will continue, the SAHRC is required to monitor the implementation of all report findings and recommendations in order to ensure that the challenges are resolved,” Jones concluded.

ELM Member of the Mayoral Committee (MMC) for Basic Services Cllr. Bheki Ntsele welcomed the report on behalf of the municipality and further highlighted the importance of working harmoniously with Chapter 9 institutions like the SAHRC for the benefit of residents.

“We accept the report as is, we are going to study it and make sure that we implement the recommendations as they have been presented to us,” Ntsele said.

Giving a progress update on the Vaal River Intervention Project (VRIP) to date, Ntsele indicated that there has been a positive movement in dealing with the spillages however; he believes that more could have been done since the SAHRC’s last visit. Ntsele pointed to contractual disputes between implementing agents and the National Department of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation (HSWS) as the cause for most of numerous lengthy project delays.

“We are happy to announce to our communities that efforts to ensure that work resumes are underway, invitations to tender for prospective service providers have been issued and the appointment processes are now at the evaluation stage. We anticipate that we shall have boots on the ground by no later than April 2021, said the MMC in closing.  

Please click on the link for the full Provincial Inquiry Report: http://bit.ly/VaalInquiry170221

 

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