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Erratic rainfall, urbanisation, ageing infrastructure and a combination of a shortage of funds and of technical skills in municipalities are contributing to a gradual deterioration in the country’s drinking water quality. While it is still safe to drink tap water in larger cities, it is becoming riskier in towns and villages. Drinking water is sourced from rivers and streams, into which poorly managed waste-water treatment plants — particularly in rural areas — are emitting millions of litres a day of partially treated or untreated water. With rainfall patterns changing as a result of global warming, there is less fresh water available to dilute contaminants. According to the Department of Water and Sanitation’s latest Green Drop report, by this year most of SA’s waste-water treatment plants were in the high-risk category, and one-quarter required urgent intervention. Prof Anthony Turton of the Centre for Environmental Management at the University of the Free State says SA produces ...

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