Is the Makhanda Water Crisis out of the deep end?

Updated: Mar 2, 2020

On Thursday, 14 March, a press conference regarding the water crisis took place at Rhodes University

By Raelee Seymour-Brown

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Crisis averted - are we overreacting to the Makhanda water crisis? Or, is this the time we should be employing even more vigilance?

When asked about Rhodes University's water evacuation plan, Ilva Pieterse, the Senior Communications Manager, said,“I think the word evacuate is bit dramatic.”

However, the prospect of an evacuation seems plausible in the face of the worst drought the city has faced in 27 years.

Nevertheless, in a press conference held on Thursday, 14 March at Rhodes University, Pieterse and Head of Hydrology, Dr. Jade Tanner, seemed to give the impression that although the water situation is still in crisis mode, the panic among residents and students of Makhanda may be slightly premature. Pieterse attributes this reaction to the miscommunication found in the media as of late. She says that many things people have taken as “fact” were merely misinformed statements posted on social media with little basis of evidence. Additionally, the water disaster has been largely covered by outside reporters (not currently residing in Makhanda) whom have used misinformation in pursuit of a newsworthy story, “The livelihood of a small town is at stake,” said Pieterse.

Pieterse claims the story circulating about the tap water being highly toxic and undrinkable is false - the water is intact “100% drinkable”. She claims these statistics were based off of a November 2018 study. The water has since been re-tested and deemed safe. Pieterse also set the record straight about the “evacuation plan” that has since caused many people to worry. She confirmed the plan is still in place, but wants to emphasize the fact that five days without water actually means five days with no economic stability, something she herself does not see likely, as rations of one day on one day off would be implemented before it could get to that stage.

In terms of what is being done in order to relieve the water situation, there are a few things in the works. Most primarily, the collaboration between Rhodes University and The Gift of the Givers that has been enacted recently. Thirteen new boreholes have since been drilled with another seven to follow. This will hopefully have a positive impact. Dr. Tanner says rocks with fractures are important for boreholes because they help conduct water flow, however that there are few of these kinds of rocks in Makhanda which makes the process more difficult. Dr. Tanner was unsure of the potential of these new boreholes saying that “we cannot be sure” exactly how much ground water will be recovered at this time.

Pieterse implores that Rhodes University did not realize the severity of the crisis until term had begun, and when they did, they issued their statement immediately. Additionally, she also stated “65% of the towns GDP comes from Rhodes” and are thus they will use this income to assist in rectifying the crisis as quickly as possible.

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