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People in Low-Cost Housing Are Not Being Taken Care of by the Authorities

Cape Times (South Africa), June 22, 2012 | Go to article overview

People in Low-Cost Housing Are Not Being Taken Care of by the Authorities


Inadequate sanitation facilities, infectious diseases and environmental pollution put the health of the urban poor living in low-cost housing settlements in Cape Town at serious risk.

This emerged from research I carried out for my recent doctoral study in Community Health at Stellenbosch University (SU), in which I assessed the sanitation and health status of 1 080 residents in four low-cost housing communities in Cape Town: Masiphumelele, Greenfields, Tafelsig and Driftsands.

My study found that high unemployment, poverty and unhealthy living conditions in such communities make the inhabitants vulnerable to outbreaks of communicable diseases, and prevent them from fulfilling their potential.

Almost half of the total group in the study had a monthly household income below the official SA poverty line of R322 per person per month, with nearly 25 percent of families reported eating fewer than three meals a day.

One hundred and fifty-three respondents reported one or more cases of diarrhoea during the two weeks preceding the survey. Diarrhoea, worm infestations and other infectious diseases spread via contaminated water and lack of clean water create difficulties for families to carry out basic hygiene around the home.

My research showed that almost 8.1 percent of main house dwellers reported disposing of their excreta and soiled nappies on the street, while 17.8 percent of shack dwellers disposed of such refuse into storm- water drains. Households have inadequate access to the formal sewerage system, and wastewater and raw sewage running into yards, pavements, streets and into stormwater drains cause extensive sewage pollution.

The level of faecal pollution of the environment is very high, with E. coli levels of the water varying from 750 to 1 580 000 000 organisms per 100 ml of water. The study shows that 97 percent of the bathrooms lacked material for drying hands (clean towel, paper towels or toilet paper), while 82 percent of the bathrooms had no soap available to wash hands.

Fifty-eight percent of toilets on the premises were non-operational, and the disposal of household wastewater was inappropriate in 56 percent of all households, with 44 percent flushing it down the toilet.

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