Durban's rivers swell with litter, as storm-water drainage and rubbish collection fail during mega-rains

 

  • 24 Aug 2016
  • The Mercury
  • Tony Carnie

Filth keeps on flooding downstream

DISMAYED by the filth and litter on Durban’s beaches and in the harbour, dozens of volunteers toiled for several hours this weekend to clean up hundreds of bags of rubbish.

Well satisfied with their efforts, they retired on Saturday afternoon – only to wake up on Sunday to discover the junk was back again after a night of torrential rain.

“I wanted to cry when I saw the mess again after all that effort,” said Dale Johnson, a Glen Hills resident who helped to set up #CleanBlueLagoon, a citizen initiative to reduce the volume of litter polluting city beaches.

“We had nearly 70 people who gave their time on Saturday and it was disappointing to see the beach trashed again – but we did make a difference by reducing the total volume of litter that ends up polluting the sea. So we just have to carry on, instead of giving up at the first hurdle.”

Johnson said he had been removing litter from the beaches since March.

“When we started there were just five of us and it took me nearly three hours to clear an area of just 2m². That’s when I realised that we had to enlist more people to help us, using social media platforms.

“I started doing this because I could no longer just look at the rubbish near Blue Lagoon thinking it was somebody else’s problem. Times have changed and all of us have to get stuck in and do something ourselves.”

Caroline Reid, who helped to organise a similar volunteer clean-up of Durban Harbour on Saturday under the banner of #CleanDurbanHarbour group, was also disappointed to see rubbish flowing back into the harbour on Sunday after hundreds of bags of litter were removed a day earlier.

“But it’s one of those things. You clean up and do your best – but until the problem of educating people upstream is resolved it is going to keep happening. But we are not giving up. We will be organising more clean-ups around the harbour and try to get more people on board.”

Bart Fokkens of the Dusi Umgeni Conservation Trust (Duct) has spent the past five years trying to reduce litter, pollution and alien plants along the uMngeni River.

He has designed and installed a variety of makeshift litter traps on several stretches of the river and feeder streams, but most were washed away during the powerful flood last month.

Some of the traps were fashioned from shadecloth, with two-litre plastic bottles as floats.

“Some are very simple, but they work well – unless there is a heavy storm. It would be great if the city came on board to install more litter booms on the rivers and other litter traps at the end of stormwater drains.

We need to catch the litter before it gets on to the beaches and into the sea.”

Fokkens said that although the municipality was involved in several educational and litter control projects across the city, he believed a more co-ordinated campaign was needed .

“We need to work together. The city itself has several departments whose work could be co-ordinated better.

“There is the parks department, the roads and stormwater department, the Durban solid waste department and Durban water and sanitation department.”

Most important, however, was to change mindsets.

“There are many people who throw litter on the floor deliberately,” said Fokkens. “They think they are helping other poor people to get jobs as cleaners. But why not use that money that is wasted on needless litter removal to employ more nurses, more teachers and policemen?”

Jon Marshall of the Coastwatch group praised the volunteers’ work but said it was time for the municipality to take a more active role.

“I have spoken to people involved in the clean-ups and it seems there is a high level of discontent that we are only able to address the symptoms through volunteer action. There seems to be apathy on the part of the municipality.”