Water activist S. Vishwanath says it’s time we in India focused on our seas, cleaned up our beaches, and took care of sewage and stormwater flows, as is done in South Africa

Durban in South Africa with its lovely beach front running miles is a surfing paradise. It is usual to see hundreds of surfers flocking the piers that abut the beach, diving in and catching the waves from as early as five in the morning. The warm waters of the Indian Ocean which sweep around the coast makes it a high point for the city, and the beaches are lovely and clean. So are the waters.

Responsible for water supply, sanitation and for water quality is the Ethekwini Water and Sanitation Services. The company is responsible for providing water to over 400,000 connections which it does by pumping over 900 million litres per day. It also collects and treats over 500 million litres per day of sewage which it does in nearly 30 decentralised sewage treatment plants spread all across the city.

South Africa has the first Constitution in the world which guaranteed water to its citizens as a right. This means that the utility company has to provide 200 litres of water every day to every family which it does by filling up a barrel provided for the purpose. Since many of the townships have no underground sewerage but pit toilets the utility also provides pit cleaning services free. The sludge is taken to a sludge treatment plant, sanitised and pelletised to be sold as fertilizer in bags. This is one of the first of its kind in the world though it is in a pilot testing mode.

But back to the beach. Since Durban has more than a 100 km length of beach, it is important for the water quality of the best standard and for it to be communicated to the users. There is a weekly testing procedure for the water quality which is then put up on boards all over. A website http://www1.durban.gov.za/beachwater/ also indicates through simple colour markers whether the condition is excellent (green on the colour marker) to unavailable (yellow on the colour marker). Since Durban has the busiest port in the whole of Africa it is important that segregation of the port activity and the beach activity be monitored and maintained.

The beach information includes such details as to whether lifeguards are available, whether there is access for the disabled, the sport activities such as volleyball, surfing and swimming that is possible, the availability of toilets, picnic areas and parking. Since sharks are also present in the warm waters, nets have been placed for the protection of swimmers and surfers. This information too is available on the website and on the beach itself. It was clear from the walk along the beach that there was no sewage flowing in stormwater drains and that no stormwater drains were directly connected to the beach without treatment. Significant efforts were made to run a collector drain and pick up all sewage for treatment before being released to the environment. No raw sewage was reaching the sea as in many Indian cities.

A good quality beach is important for the local residents and also brings in tourists in droves. This spurs the local economy in many ways providing employment and livelihoods. It is time we in India too focused on our seas, cleaned up our beach, took care of sewage and stormwater flows and made our seas fit for our youngsters to enjoy and learn swimming, surfing, boating and many other sports. This is also water wisdom.

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