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Hundreds ill after drinking sewage-contaminated water

by Staff Reporter
30 Jun 2019 at 07:58hrs | Views
MORE than 200 residents including school children in Empumalanga's DRC suburb in Hwange were on Thursday and Friday taken ill following a diarrhoea outbreak suspected to have been caused by a sewage leak into the water system.

Officials suspect that 3 000 more residents could be exposed to the water borne infection. An emergency Civil Protection Committee was hastily arranged on Friday to try and deal with the problem.

Speaking at the meeting, Hwange Local Board Environment Health technician, Mr Nqobile Mabhena said they suspected the outbreak was a result of cross contamination emanating from a suspected leak in the water pipeline that supplies the area.

"Although Zinwa and council have not pinpointed the source or exactly where this cross contamination took place there is suspicion that it's at a river crossing where a sewage stream flows. In the suspected area there is a stream of raw sewage from burst pipes that flows over the pipes supplying water to residents in DRC so that could be our cross contamination point. We suspect that sewage water which would have heavily accumulated in the water supply pipeline is pushed up when supplies are restored. The whole Phase Three has been affected by this and as on Thursday, 53 cases had been reported at our clinic today (Friday) the number had increased to 93. This number excludes the ones that went to seek treatment at other health institutions such as St Patrick's and Hwange Colliery hospitals," said Mr Mabhena.

Hwange District Medical Officer Dr Seleman Saidi, however, said they were yet to confirm if the outbreak was caused by diarrhoea.

"We are yet to ascertain if it's a diarrhoea outbreak and as for the number that have been taken ill we are yet to get confirmation on that. However, for a Press statement contact the PMD," he said.

Dr Saidi said the number of affected people could increase owing to delays in locating the point of cross contamination.

 "We are now faced with the challenge of containing the situation that is finding the point of contamination as soon as possible but in the meantime the problem may persist. The catchment area has a population of over 3 000 people and the number may increase if we don't act fast. Yes, we know that council was responsible for the sewer burst."

Zinwa quality assurance technician, Mr Blessing Tagwirei said a team to investigate the problem had been brought in to test the water.

 "We have tested the water along the line, at some points it meets the WHO standards, however, we have had challenges in locating the exact points of contamination. We strongly believe that raw sewage finding its way into the water pipe when there is a water cut caused the contamination. Three supply lines have been affected and these run parallel to the sewer pipes and if anything happens along the lines there is a likelihood of cross contamination. We will also increase our chlorine levels at certain points to create shock along the system as a measure," he said.

Mr Tagwirei said the problem was being exacerbated by constant power cuts which would cut off water supplies to the area thereby causing raw sewage from the flowing stream to seep into the created vacuum.

"We were not able to get samples from some of the affected houses especially those uphill because there was no water as a result of the power cut. However, we hope to get water samples to test the level of contamination. In the meantime we are going to excavate the suspected area of cross contamination."

Acting District Administrator who is also chairperson of CPC, Mr Simbarashe Kayela called on stakeholders to assist in the mobilisation of resources to contain the outbreak.

Sunday News visited Empumalanga on Friday where almost half of the pupils from Nechibondo Primary School were waiting in queues at the local clinic accompanied by their parents and some residents to receive treatment.

They said they were sent home after spending most of the morning with running tummies.

Source - Sunday News