Umgeni Water Chief Executive and Managers don overalls and roll up their sleeves to clean polluted river

The CEO addresses the participantsUmgeni Water Chief Executive Cyril Gamede addresses volunteers. Others in the picture are Corporate Stakeholder Manager Shami Harichunder and General Manager: Operations Msizi Cele.

Senior Executives and Managers from Umgeni Water swopped their day jobs to clean up the Baynespruit River in Sobantu, Pietermaritzbrg, on Wednesday.

The Umgeni Water group was led by Chief Executive Cyril Gamede and comprised General Manager: Operations Msizi Cele, General Manager: Corporate Services Mokete Moleko and Corporate Stakeholder Manager Shami Harichunder. They were later joined by a group of volunteers and the Councillor for the area.

The clean began at 10h00 and ended at 15h00 and resulted in a huge pile of rubbish being removed from the Baynespruit and its surrounds which was later taken away by the Msunduzi Local Municipality cleansing department. A spot in the Baynespruit was adopted by Umgeni Water for future care.

Chief Executive Cyril Gamede, Corporate Stakeholder Manager Shami Harichunder, General Manager of Operations and Communication Specialist Fiona Ellis complete the clean-up of Baynespruit

Addressing the volunteers present, Gamede said the clean-up project was a reflection of Umgeni Water’s commitment to protect the environment and water resources, on which Umgeni Water was dependent to be able provide potable water to an estimated 4 000 000 consumers in KwaZulu-Natal.

"The reality is what we have seen in Baynespruit today is a microcosm of a wider problem. In South Africa an estimated 142 rivers are polluted to the extent that they pose a risk to public health. In the developing world, an estimated 90% of wastewater is discharged into rivers and streams without treatment," Gamede said.

"Umgeni Water’s commitment is not about how many times we can shout in unison “Save Our Planet", but it is expressed in a practical way. We have left our offices for the day to join municipal colleagues and the community to clean up the Baynespruit. That is not all: Umgeni Water will leave a legacy today by adopting a section of the Baynespruit for future care. We are hoping this action will send a message to other businesses, organs of State and local communities that we have a collective responsibility to nurture and protect our environment.

"The effects of seriously polluted rivers and streams are horrendous: water-borne diseases - such as bilharzia, typhoid and cholera - proliferate. We do not have to look far or too far back for evidence. During the cholera outbreak in KwaZulu-Natal between the years 2000 and 2003 approximately 120 000 people became sick and 395 died," Gamede said.

The River Cleanup Team Chief Executive Cyril Gamede, Corporate Stakeholder Manager Shami Harichunder, General Manager of Operations, Communication Specialist Fiona Ellis and Communication Specialist Thokozani Hammond prepare to leave after completing the clean-up of Baynespruit.

Harichunder said some studies show Baynespruit is ranked one of most polluted rivers in the region and among top 6 most polluted rivers in South Africa. As a consequence, Baynespruit introduces high pollutant loads into the Mgeni system.

"Interventions are urgent and imperative to successfully achieve rehabilitation and enhance water quality in Mgeni catchments. If these interventions succeed, they will lead to improved quality of water entering Msunduzi River," Harichunder said.

As an on-going intervention Umgeni Water monitors river health through sampling at several spots in the Baynespruit in order to identify problem areas. The clean-up and adoption of a spot were the first step towards encouraging and promoting better water quality and custodianship of the environment through education and awareness, Harichunder said.