Last month, videos of hundreds, if not thousands, of dead fish floating in the Umgeni River highlighted the extent of pollution in one of the province’s most important rivers.
After witnessing the free dumping of waste near and into the river, Durban-based company Reefer Cold Storage led a private-public-NPO river cleanup last week, which will continue this week, to mark the global cleanup and the international coastal cleanup. -Up Day which was Saturday September 17th.
The 232 kilometer long Umgeni River, which originates in the KZN Midlands and stretches all the way to Durban, is a key source of water for the region.
According to WWF-SA and EWT, it is not only “essential to our natural biodiversity heritage, but also as a crucial source of water for the people of KwaZulu-Natal and the economy of the province”. Used for various recreational activities, including the annual Dusi Canoe Marathon, the Umgeni River is the lifeblood of the city.
For many residents, subsistence fishing and drinking water from the river are vital to daily life, however, the current health of the water threatens rather than sustains life.
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Sewage pollution, compounded by flooding in April, pushed levels of E. coli at a dangerous level, again causing the closure of 13 swimming beaches last month.
This is only exacerbated by the constant illegal dumping and excessive waste that ends up in the water source, disrupting the local ecosystem and posing a threat to wildlife and human health. But there is good news on the horizon.
Concerned about the condition of the river, Reefer Cold Storage contacted Janet Simpkins of the non-profit organization (NPO) Adopt a River. Together they called on the Municipality of eThekwini and other stakeholders, including BMS Foods (Bluff Meat Supply), Multiquip and AlcoNCP, to deal with the existing waste, restore the land and put in place measures to prevent new spills.
“Every river matters – this interconnected water network is vital for the survival of diverse ecosystems, providing water for many communities and, in some catchments, supplying drinking water to dams. The Umgeni River is no exception. Unfortunately, many of these waterways are contaminated not only by solid waste but also by sewage, and the Umgeni suffers from both,” Simpkins explained.
Stamatis “kapsi” Kapsimalis, CEO and owner of Reefer Cold Storage, said breakthroughs are already underway.
“This week’s cleanup has been an eye-opening experience as we have had to deal with the level of pollution in the Umgeni River. But it has also been incredibly rewarding to see the positive impact we can have when we all come together to a common goal. I would like to thank all the stakeholders who are committed to improving the health of the Umgeni River, not just for now but for the long term. This is a time of change for environmental conservation because it’s really now or never,” Kapsimalis said.