Are the right measures being put in place to ensure you have access to safe drinking water?
This is the question environmental health expert Mike Agenbag hopes to answer as he pursues his doctoral studies.
A lecturer in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Studies, Agenbag is set to explore domestic water governance and how it contributes to preventative public health outcomes in order to reduce the associated disease burden for South Africa.
With more than 20 years of industry experience, Agenbag’s research topic was inspired by a project he undertook back in 2006, whilst working as an environmental health manager at a rural municipality.
The project saw him conduct a survey in a specific region in South Africa in order to ascertain if the proper legislations were in place and if the right measures were being followed in the process of monitoring the quality of drinking water.
“I found that the legislation was in place, however fragmented, and implementation of the water quality monitoring was done in silos,” he says.
The study also found that the important role environmental health practitioners play in domestic water governance at municipal level was being overlooked, and therefore not integrated for appropriate public health prevention interventions by government.
Although the Department of Water Affairs is the custodian of water in South Africa, Agenbag says through legislation they have established water service authorities and water services providers for the physical implementation of water at municipal level.
Agenbag says the Department of Health is responsible for health, therefore the role of environmental health to monitor water quality to ensure the prevention of ill health at its origin.
Government has also introduced the Blue Drop System (BDS), as an incentive and monitoring scheme that encourages municipalities to improve the quality and availability of domestic water in the areas they are responsible for.
“However, the BDS focusses on water systems that does not cover all communities, in particular in rural communities that are significantly still exposed to unprotected water sources,” he says.
Agenbag says it is vital that municipal health services are aligned to the legislation that has been set by Water Affairs, to ensure the proper governance of domestic water.
“I hope that this study will lead to a legislative change and a model for integrating water quality management,” he says.