Thursday, April 17, 2008

South Africa's Great Sanitation Divide

Wikipedia describes South Africa as having "...a two-tiered economy; one rivaling other developed countries and the other with only the most basic infrastructure." The country is well-endowed with natural resources, is a net food exporter, and has been working to diversify its economy.

But there is another side to South Africa – one that belies the modern images presented by its major cities of Johannesburg and Cape Town. The "informal" settlement of Die Gaatjie, near the tourist town of Sedgefield is an example of the other South Africa – poor, crowded and unsanitary.

Die Gaatjie is a community consisting of 200 families, and was built on an old dumping ground. It is served by three communal water taps and just five toilets – one for every 40 families. Residents complain that the overflow and smell from the toilets make people ill.

Cholera is endemic in South Africa, and can spread easily in conditions such as exist in Die Gaatjie – as it did in 2001. Just yesterday, two confirmed cases of cholera were reported in Soweto, a poor township near Johannesburg.

James Booysen, a local community leader in Die Gaatjie, told visiting government officials that the settlement needed decent housing, water, electricity and toilet facilities. That doesn't seem like too much to ask for.

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