Back in 2015, The South African Medical Association (SAMA) warned that the country could expect a surge in water-borne diseases as temperatures got higher and as the drought worsened. But what was once a mere warning just two years ago, has quickly become a sore reality for residents of the Western Cape, as 2017 experiences the worst drought the province has seen in 100 years.
The Western Cape has officially been declared a disaster area because of it, and with the lack of water and sanitation, the daunting burden of disease will follow sooner than we think.
How will the drought cause disease?
The water shortage reduces our supply of the main component to keeping ourselves clean – water. Without the means to stay hygienic, the chances of spreading disease onto one another increases significantly.
Crowded, over-populated areas such as informal settlements will be hit harder than anyone else, as these areas see little-to-no flowing water. Diseases like dysentery and cholera thrive amongst poverty-stricken areas, where cramped living conditions eventually disintegrate into unlivable conditions.
The dry air and humid atmosphere which summer brings will attract disease-carrying insects such as mosquitoes, spreading illness like wildfire, and multiply even quicker.
Bacteria grows and pollutes the source when fresh water reserves eventually become stagnant. Stagnant water that hasn’t been refreshed by fresh streams invite parasitic creatures as they thrive in warm, idle water.
The threat of starvation becomes an extremely sobering thought as the reality of decreased food production kicks in. The lack of water to irrigate farmer’s fields will cause fields to become parched of their water sources, resulting in crops dying and food production reaching new lows in the entirety of the Western Cape.
Starved bodies become weak, and less able to fight against infection, while food itself can act as a driver for disease transmission. Water shortages can force farmers to use recycled water to irrigate their fields and process the food they grow.
What are some of the diseases that can be caused by the drought?
– Lyme Disease
– West Nile Virus
– Dengue Fever
Every one of these diseases are deadly, and both E.coli and salmonella have the potential to infect an entire population after rainfall. When the surface water is harvested, the rain droplets have penetrated the hardened soil beneath it – keeping any fresh water polluted, and takes effect when fed into the water supply.
Destabilisation of cities by ‘water migrants’
People who live in poverty stricken, informal settlements and townships will be the ones to suffer the worst amidst the Cape Town water crisis. Some inhabitants will be pushed into leaving their homes for nearby cities, in an attempt to obtain clean water in order to survive – once the clean water becomes scarce.
The city is reaching breaking point rapidly, and with an influx of ‘water-seeking migrants’ – the city could become overwhelmed by demands to keep citizens hydrated and protected from disease.
Phase One of limited water supply to selected suburbs has already kicked in, and ‘Phase Two’ of drought response involves drafting in SANDF soldiers on the city’s streets.
It’s predicted than in less than five months, usable water will have run out, and the nightmare of drought caused diseases may become a reality sooner than we can prepare for.