By Lynne Gadd-Claxton
DOZENS of teachers and children have been struck down by serious illnesses at a New Brighton school which has been without a constant supply of clean running water for the past 14 years.
Nombulelo Sume, principal of the Charles Duna Lower Primary School, said each month about 20 children – some of whom were HIV-positive – were sick with diarrhoea, vomiting and nausea, while two teachers were recently diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis and four others had contracted a bladder infection, allegedly because of the water situation.
Sume said the school suffered an unusually high absenteeism rate because of the health problems created by the lack of clean water, poor sanitation and inadequate plumbing.
The plight of the school was brought to the attention of the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality’s public health committee, where it was revealed that the two teachers had been diagnosed with the life-threatening illness (meningococcal meningitis).
The committee’s investigation also revealed that:
* The school had been without a constant water supply for the past 14 years due to a defective underground piping system;
* The underground pipes were only 15mm in diameter, resulting in inadequate water pressure and no water supply to a second ablution block;
* The school had two ablution blocks about 50 metres away from each other. Bad smells emanated from the facilities with evidence of overflowing toilets in the first ablution block;
* Parents were fetching water from an adjoining premises with buckets and a wheel-barrow to fill the cisterns.
Sume has obtained a quotation from the municipality to rectify the problem for R72 000, which the school cannot afford.
Following last weekend’s heavy rains in Port Elizabeth, the flaws in the drainage system were brought to the fore when teachers were forced to send the school’s 998 pupils home at the beginning of the new term on Monday. Sume told Weekend Post this was a common occurrence when it rained.
The flooded school grounds made it impossible for Weekend Post to enter the school’s offices and classrooms and Sume and the few teachers who remained had to wade through calf-deep water in gumboots.
According to Sume, the water collects because there is no drainage system in place, which results in flooded grounds and pupils being sent home. “Many of my pupils are disadvantaged and come to school to be educated, but are told to go home.
“The Education Department expects us to deliver on the curriculum but we are unable to attend to the pupils in these conditions.”
Sume said the damp conditions were not good for children with a compromised immune system and those who were asthmatic.
The public health committee decided the Departments of Health and Education would pursue the matter regarding the provision of an adequate waterpipe system.
This is a shortened version of an article that first appeared in the print edition of Weekend Post on Saturday July 21 2012.