Pollution of our water needs to stop right now

Foam covers a stretch of the Hennops River. Water activists say the execessive pollution of the river poses a threat to human health.

The statement Water is life is vast and embodies many things one of which tells us why human beings need water for survival.

People polluting our rivers and water resources know this fact.  But, they seem not to care for the wellbeing of nature, most importantly, all living species in earth including human beings.

Water pollution is any contamination of water with chemicals or other foreign substances that are detrimental to human, plant, or animal health. These pollutants include fertilizers and pesticides from agricultural runoff; sewage and food processing waste; lead, mercury, and other heavy metals; chemical wastes from industrial discharges; and chemical contamination from hazardous waste sites.

In fact, water pollution, is the release of substances into subsurface groundwater or into lakes, streams, rivers, estuaries, and oceans to the point where the substances interfere with beneficial use of the water or with the natural functioning of ecosystems. In addition to the release of substances, such as chemicals or microorganisms, water pollution may also include the release of energy, in the form of radioactivity or heat, into bodies of water.

In developing countries, 70% of industrial wastes are dumped untreated into waters, polluting the usable water supply.

On average, 22 million tons of fertilizers and chemicals are used each year.

“Green roofs” help prevent sewer overflows and help to catch storm water and cool the environment.

Worldwide, nearly 2 billion people drink contaminated water that could be harmful to their health.

One cannot stress the important of water as life.

In the wilderness, for instance, people do die after becoming lost or having their vehicle break down in remote and unknown areas. Many of these deaths occurred due to excessive heat, thirst and exposure to elements. Causalities also occur because the individuals have poor survival knowledge and they lack basic supplies such as water and food.

The average person can expect to survive without water for three to five days, depending on the environment they live in and the activity they try to do. Some instances show individuals have perished within hours of becoming lost due to excessive dehydration.

For human beings, it is no secret that water is essential to survival, but besides quenching your thirst water also helps directly and indirectly various physical and chemical processes in your body. Here are just a few of the functions performed by it:

It regulates the body’s temperature
Helps the kidneys to flush out toxins via urine
It helps the nervous system by carrying impulses around the body
Carries oxygen, nutrients and other essentials around the body
Protects the vital organs as a shock absorbent and it also provides lubrication around the joints
Fact is we all need water for survival. Dirty or polluted water affects our environment and makes us sick. Dirty water may also have to be cleaned before using it.

As South Africa is a country with limited amounts of water and because to clean water is so expensive we all have to be careful how we use it. The Constitution states that we have rights to live in a healthy environment and also to keep our water resources clean- our dams, rivers and boreholes is one of the most important ways of making sure this happens.


However, in many parts of the country there is increasing pollution and damage to our water resources. A lot of pollution is caused by waste we produce in our daily lives getting into our water. Rivers with small amounts of pollution are able to clean themselves, but when there is too much waste the river cannot clean it naturally. This means the next community living along the river is going to be getting polluted water.

When this happens, people in all the settlements suffer health problems and even death, specially affects children and the elderly. Most of our common illnesses, such as diarrhoea, cholera and skin problem come from polluted water.

Well, you just might die of thirst. It sounds so simple. H20 – two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. This substance also known as water, is one of the most essential elements to health and is so important that your body actually has a specific drought management system in place to prevent dehydration and ensure your survival. Water might be everywhere, but one must never take it for granted.

Water makes up more than two thirds of human body weight, and without water, we would die in a few days. The human brain is made up of 95% water blood is 82% and lungs 90%. A mere 2% drop in our body’s water supply can trigger signs of dehydration: fuzzy short-term memory, trouble with basic math, and difficulty focusing on smaller print, such as a computer screen. (Are you having trouble reading this? Drink up!) Mild dehydration is also one of the most common causes of daytime fatigue. An estimated 75% of Americans have mild, chronic dehydration. Pretty scary statistic for a developed country where water is readily available through the tap or bottle water.

Water is important to the mechanics of the human body. The body cannot work without it, just as a car cannot run without gas and oil. In fact, all the cell and organ functions that make up our entire anatomy and physiology depend on water for their functioning. Water serves as a lubricant in digestion and almost all other body processes. The water in our saliva helps facilitate chewing and swallowing, ensuring that food will slide easily downs the esophagus. Water also lubricates our joints and cartilages and allows them to (pardon the pun) move more fluidly. When dehydrated, the body rations water away from the joints. Less lubrication equals greater friction and that can cause joint, knee and back pain potentially leading to injuries and arthritis. Even our eyeballs need plenty of lubrication to work well and remain healthy.

Our bodies can control over-heating through perspiration from sweat glands in the skin and from evaporation which produces a cooling effect. Blood is also routed into areas close to the surface of the skin where it can be cooled and then carried back to the interior of the body. Conversing in a cold environment, the skin maintains proper body temperature by shunting the blood away from the exterior surface thereby conserving heat within the body. The movement of water within our cellular systems also transports vital blood plasma which is 92% made of water.

Blood plasma play a critical role in buffering the body’s pH, circulating antibodies from the immune system, and regulating osmotic balance which all helps to maintain proper body temperature.

That is why environmental education and awareness on water pollution-related diseases by communities, especially those who live in informal settlements is of paramount importance.

Khulekani Ngcobo & Mr Ike Motsapi are Principal Communications Officers for the Department of Water and Sanitation