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South Africa: Cholera Could be Linked to Water Fees

SAPA and Woza News
October 24th, 2000

DURBAN (Sapa) -- The cholera outbreak in KwaZulu-Natal, which has claimed 31 lives, could be related to the government's growth, employment and redistribution (GEAR) strategy, the National Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) said on Monday.

National spokesman Moloantoa Molaba said that according to information received from a non-governmental organisation, the Rural Development Network, the GEAR strategy of cost recovery for social services required people to pay for previously free and clean water.

"After the drought in 1993, the government installed communal taps in the now cholera-infected areas. The water was used by local villagers and outlying communities, and was free.

"In August the department of water affairs, which is gradually phasing in the programme, gave control of the water supply to the transitional local council in these cholera areas. Soon after, they introduced the cost recovery system," Molaba said.

He said rural communities couldn't afford the service and began using water from polluted streams in the densely populated area. "Barely a month without clean water, then there is a cholera outbreak. Nehawu is investigating these allegations and we hope they are not true," Molaba said.

Two badly affected areas, he said, were Mgwelezane and Singisi villages in the Mpendle region. Molaba said the strategy of cost recovery for social services had been "notoriously imposed and driven by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund".

He said Nehawu challenged the department of water affairs to answer the claims.

Water affairs ministry spokesman Thami Mchunu said the allegations were not true. The department will release a full statement on the issue on Tuesday, he said.

The death toll reached 31 on Monday after a resident of the Reservoir Hills informal settlement near Durban died in Addington hospital.

The provincial health department said 86 new cases of cholera have been reported since Sunday, taking the total number of reported cases to 3 636. Of this, 2 350 cases were reported in the lower Umfolozi area where the disease first broke out and where 15 of the fatalities were recorded. Twenty-nine of the new cases were also from the Umfolozi area.

The other area of concern is at Eshowe/Nkandla, where 1,092 cases have been reported since mid-August and where 10 people had died.

Health authorities are concerned that the annual religious festival of the Shembe church outside Eshowe could contribute to the cholera outbreak due to the lack of amenities for the thousands of churchgoers who have already gathered.

The provincial department of health has provided fresh water and toilet facilities as well as a swimming pool for baptisms, previously performed in a nearby river.

On Monday, KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Zweli Mkhize visited the Shembe gathering with the provincial surgeon-general of the SA National Defence Force and a representative from the World Health Organisation to assess the situation.

Health spokeswoman Mabel Dlamini said Mkhize was satisfied that measures taken to prevent participants from contracting the disease were adequate.

Dlamini said only one of the cases reported from the area involved a Shembe church member, and he contracted the disease before arriving for the gathering.

She added that the department would soon embark on an education programme to inform people about the disease in areas where it had not yet broken out. "We hope that through this we will be able to prevent the disease from spreading to these areas."

There are 11 fully operational rehydration centres, open 24 hours a day, to assist affected people. Also, 96 water tankers are supplying clean water to communities.





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