South Africa: Cholera Could be Linked to Water Fees

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

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

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

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

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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