A critical assessment of the causes and impacts of water pollution - the case of the Vaal River in Emfuleni Local Municipality

Xaba, Kholiswa
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South Africa is confronted with the challenge of increasing pollution levels and deterioration of its surface water resources, especially rivers, due to anthropogenic activities associated with rapid population growth and urbanisation. The Vaal River is one of the most polluted rivers in South Africa as a result of, inter alia, inadequately treated industrial effluent, wastewater from dysfunctional sanitation infrastructure, acid mine drainage and agricultural activities. This is of grave concern because of South Africa’s semi-arid nature and water scarcity. Although the impacts are evidently detrimental to the ecology, economic development and social aspects such as human health and quality of life, the pollution crisis remains unsolved. This study is a critical assessment of the causes and impacts of water pollution of the Vaal River in Emfuleni Local Municipality. Data was collected using secondary resources such as academic literature and government publications, among other sources. Additionally, semi-structured interviews with Officials involved in the water and sanitation sector, as well as environmental management in Emfuleni were conducted with the aim of understanding the causes and impacts of the Vaal River pollution. The findings of this study suggest that sewage spillage from dilapidated sanitation infrastructure is the main cause of the Vaal River pollution in Emfuleni Local Municipality. Additionally, the study suggests that institutional challenges such as, inter alia, capacity constraints, poor leadership and noncompliance to regulatory requirements underlie the on-going sewage pollution in the Vaal River in Emfuleni
A research report submitted to the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, University of the Witwatersrand, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Masters of Science Development Planning, 2021