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Cape hospitals drill for water as drought bites

16 November 2017 - 16:46 By Tanya Farber
Hospital bed.
Hospital bed.
Image: Tyler Olson/ 123RF.com

Hospitals in the Western Cape face disaster if the taps run dry - a prospect that is looming for the first half of 2018. 

Now‚ in a bid to stave off this crisis‚ the provincial government has started drilling for water at some state hospitals.

Long-term interventions were put in place some time ago but‚ “a large aspect of the short-term plan centres around the drilling and activation of boreholes at hospitals‚” said provincial health spokesperson Mark van der Heever.

Hospitals in the province require 1.8 million kilolitres of water per year to operate.

He said the resulting “extra water” extracted from boreholes would augment the supply from the city.

Already drilling has begun at some hospitals‚ as well as the “re-activating” of existing boreholes at others – such as at Karl Bremer Hospital where the site is delivering 10‚000 litres of water per hour.

At Tygerburg Hospital too‚ an old borehole is being activated‚ while water from the borehole at Khayelitsha Hospital is being tested for safety.

The plan is being done in partnership with the Department of Transport and Public Works.

Van der Heever said that water was used at health facilities for "cleaning linen‚ floors‚ toilets‚ scrubbing‚ disinfecting equipment‚ bathing‚ drinking‚ and others". Water from boreholes was tested at a laboratory for safety before use.

Caution‚ however‚ is needed. Chris Jack‚ a researcher at the Climate System Analysis Group at the University of Cape Town‚ said boreholes were helpful in times of a lack of municipal water supply.

But‚ groundwater extraction “can have negative impacts such as land sinking‚ salt water intrusion in coastal areas like Cape Town‚ and a drop in water quality”.

The Department is aware of this‚ and according to Van der Heever‚ is being careful “not to exhaust the resource”.

While plans unfold at hospitals‚ the drought could also increase the number of patients needing to be admitted.

According to website of the National Drought Mitigation Center in the USA‚ “Health problems related to low water flows and poor quality water‚ health problems related to dust‚ reduced incomes‚ and fewer recreational activities” can be expected in any country where a drought unfolds.