Authorities neglect safe toilets

The office of the auditor-general has slammed ministries and local councils for poor control over sewerage systems.

26 September 2018 | Health

JANA-MARI SMITH



A lack of safe toilets has raised fears of groundwater pollution and disease outbreaks caused by sewage leaks.

A recent performance audit report by the auditor-general found that between 2013 and 2016, 53 of the 642 households at Gibeon were using bucket toilets.

“As a result, the unhygienic environment such as open defecation, pit latrine without slab and usage of a bucket system might further result in a variety of widespread health problems,” the auditors warned.

They found that at Kalkrand, Gibeon and Stampriet sewage systems were not properly maintained because of a lack of skills and equipment. This resulted in groundwater pollution at Gibeon.

The report states that 57% of the 14 towns visited “did not maintain cleanliness in terms of sewage management” because the local authorities “do not properly maintain the sewage reticulation systems.”

The auditors found several overflowing sewer manholes, as well as plastic septic tanks spilling their contents onto the streets, illustrated by photos taken at Ondangwa and Divundu.

A widespread lack of maintenance of sewage systems was also identified.

At Usakos, it was found that the town council did not conduct regular inspections at the main pump station, where sewer screeners were missing, a standby pump was broken and vegetation was growing in old and cracking sewage ponds, which could result in “untreated sewage overflowing into the environment.”

At Ondangwa, where a contractor had been appointed to maintain pump stations, the auditors found the company was not complying with contract conditions because it was left unsupervised by the town council.

The auditors warned that “inefficient management of sewage by local authorities may further result in underground water pollution” and public health scares, as well as depriving many Namibians of access to safe and hygienic toilets.

Not doing their job

At the core of the issue was the failure of ministries to ensure compliance with permit conditions, the auditors found.

The main culprits identified in the conclusion of the report included the ministry of environment and tourism’s department of environment affairs, which failed to ensure the development of environmental management plans and that towns obtain environmental clearance certificates for sewage management.

The department of water affairs and forestry, under the agriculture ministry, failed in many cases to ensure that towns have valid wastewater permits.

The housing, habitat, planning and technical services department within the urban and rural development ministry failed on several fronts.

The auditors noted that the department could not provide assurance that the quality of material used and work done by contractors in certain towns was inspected. The directorate could not provide inspection reports of the 146 infrastructure development projects valued at nearly N$1.8 million undertaken during the period under review.

An analysis also showed that the urban and rural development ministry took between 29 and 92 working days to transfer funds for sewerage development projects, which resulted in project delays and completion due to late payment of contractors and consultants.

The auditors further found that some projects were incomplete, with missing sewer screeners and faulty sewer manholes that led to pipe bursts and flooding of sewage into the environment.

Furthermore, the housing directorate failed to ensure that sewerage infrastructure was in line with standards.

The directorate of primary health care services in the health ministry is listed as failing to coordinate or monitor local authorities to ensure compliance with public health laws and regulations.

The report highlighted that since independence, Namibia has faced increasing rural-to-urban migration, with 43% of the population living in urban areas in 2011 compared to 33% in 2001.

This has led to urban populations outgrowing sewerage capacities in towns. About 22% of urban households are estimated to have no access to toilets and 1.3% have to use bucket toilets or defecate in the open.

The report contains numerous recommendations, including increased pressure by ministries on local authorities to ensure compliance with permit conditions and improved monitoring by ministries.

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