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Water Security

AEMREG/RVSC UFH COLLABORATION  on Quality indices of the Eastern Cape aquatic milieus and exploration of its microbial diversity for sustainable development and poverty alleviation

Water Quality is a significant problem in the Eastern Cape Province and one of my major and current areas of research interest. It encompasses such areas as Water/wastewater Quality Indicators, and effluent monitoring and compliance studies as well as exploration of the microbial diversity of the Province’s freshwater and marine resources for important biomolecules of health and biotechnological relevance which could impact on sustainable development and poverty alleviation in the Province. Current ongoing researches involve assessment of the abiotic and biotic (including viral pathogens) qualities of final effluents of wastewater treatment facilities and other aquatic resources in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. Our extended interested also include surveillance of reservoirs of antibiotic resistance determinants in the environment. We have enjoyed generous grants from the NRF, MRC and WRC in these regards.

AEMREG laboratory is eminently well equipped to meet the demands of our research initiatives. We also exploit the immense benefit of advances in conventional culture based and molecular techniques in the pursuit of our research objectives, and our laboratory serves as the South Africa Country Laboratory for the International collaboration of on the Surveillance of the Prudent Use of Antibiotics (APUA/ISRAR). The group is currently made up of 18 M and D students working in the areas of Water quality; Bioflocculants; Reservoirs of antibiotic resistance; and Plant antimicrobial, and has a publication average of 25 journal articles in the last 3 years. We are delighted to be associated with the RAVAC initiative.

Prof. Anthony I Okoh
Applied and Environmental Microbiology Research Group
University of Fort Hare.


Buffalo River catchment – Extensive evaluation of the physicochemical, bacteriological and virological qualities of the Buffalo river in the Eastern Cape province is currently been undertaken. Reconnaissance visit to the river catchment suggests high pollution level in the river thus posing a serious health risk to the communities who are dependent on the river for domestic, recreational and agricultural uses. Below are typical examples of some sceneries motivation for the need of this study:


Typical pollution sceneries on the Buffalo River catchment.

1.Bridle Drift Dam showing extensive deposition of chemical pollutants.

2.Eluxolzweni showing extensive growth of water weeds.

3.Rooikrantz Dam showing the presence of considerable animal dung.

Click here for Selected Publications of the AEMREG/RAVAC collaboration

Current Research

1. TITLE: Impact of discharge wastewater effluents on the physico-chemical qualities of a receiving watershed in a typical rural community: Authored by E. O. Igbinosa and A. I. Okoh (2009): corresponding author


STUDY AREA: The qualities of the treated final effluents of a wastewater treatment plant located in Alice in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa and at geographical coordinates of 32o50’ 36’ S, 26o55’ 00’ E, were assessed over the duration of 12 months.

METHODOLOGY: Parameters measured include pH, temperature, electrical conductivity, salinity, turbidity, total dissolved solid, dissolved oxygen, chemical oxygen demand , nitrate, nitrite and orthophosphate levels and these were simultaneously monitored in the treated final effluents and the receiving watersheds using standard methods.

FINDINGS: The study has revealed that there was an adverse impact on the physico-chemical characteristics of the receiving watershed as a result of the discharge of inadequately treated effluents from the wastewater treatment facility. This poses a health risk to several rural communities which rely on the receiving water bodies primarily as their sources of domestic water.

RECOMMENDATIONS: There is need for the intervention of appropriate regulatory agencies to ensure production of high quality treated final effluents by wastewater treatment facilities in rural communities of South Africa.

2.TITLE: Occurrence of potentially pathogenic vibrios in final effluents of a wastewater treatment facility in a rural community of the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa: Authored by Etinosa O. Igbinosa, Larry C. Obi, and Anthony I. Okoh (2009): corresponding author


STUDY AREA: The occurrence of Vibrio pathogens in the final effluents of a rural wastewater treatment facility in Alice in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa located at geographical coordinates 32o50’ 36’ S and 26o55’ 00’ E.

METHODOLOGY: Occurrence of Vibrio pathogens as free or plankton-associated entities was assessed using standard culture-based and molecular techniques.

FINDINGS: The occurrence of both the free-living Vibrio and the plankton-associated Vibrio pathogens was confirmed. Molecular confirmation of the presumptive vibrios isolates revealed fluvialis as the predominant species followed by Vibrio vulnificus and Vibrio parahaemolyticus. The findings suggested a high incidence of pathogenic Vibrio species in the final effluent of the rural wastewater facility. The authors concluded that rural wastewater treatment facilities in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa are potential sources of Vibrio pathogens in the aquatic environment of the communities.

RECOMMENDATIONS: The authors’ recommended a need for intervention by the appropriate regulatory agencies to ensure compliance with wastewater treatment facilities for regulating effluent quality standards.

3.TITLE: Regrowth and survival of indicator microorganisms on the surfaces of household containers used for the storage of drinking water in rural communities of South Africa: Authored by Maggy N.B. Momba and P. Kaleni (2002): corresponding author


STUDY AREA: The study covered two rural communities of South Africa: Ncera and Ntselamanzi villages. Raw water from Ncera River is used by the community of Ncera village for drinking, while the community of Ntselamanzi receives their drinking water from Alice purification system.

METHODOLOGY: The study was performed to test drinking water as it is collected and stored by rural communities. The regrowth and survival of indicator microorganisms on the surface of household containers (polyethylene (PE) and galvanized steel (GS)) used for the storage of their drinking water was assessed over a period of 48 h, the time period for which the largest percentage (62%) of households stored their water. Attached coliphages and somatic phage, total coliform bacteria, presumptive Escherichia coli, Salmonella and Clostridium perfringens were measured during the study period.

FINDINGS: The occurrence and survival of total coliform bacteria was noted on the surface of both household containers during the entire period of the experimental study. The regrowth of indicator microorganisms occurred 48 h after the storage of test waters. This length of time mostly resulted in the regrowth of total coliform bacteria while the persistence of other indicator organism groups on the surface of the containers was apparent. A comparison between PE and GS containers showed that more total coliform bacteria regrew on PE than on GS containers. This study revealed that both types of household containers supported the growth and survival of indicator microorganisms due to the bad quality of the intake water before storage.

RECOMMENDATIONS: The authors recommended the need for suitable education and information programmes on water safety and personal hygiene of household containers to be given in rural communities in order to minimize contamination of potable water stored in containers.

4.TITLE: Safe drinking water still a dream in rural areas of South Africa. Case Study: The Eastern Cape Province: Authored by MNB Momba, Z Tyafa, N Makala, BM Brouckaert and CL Obi (2006): Corresponding author


STUDY AREA: From October to November 2004, and from July to September 2005, a survey of 55 plants was conducted in five District Municipalities (Cacadu, Chris Hani, Amathole, UKhahlamba and O.R. Tambo) of the Eastern Cape Province, with the aim of examining the disinfection practices used in small rural systems of the Eastern Cape and their effect on the quality of drink­ing water they supply to the communities.

METHODOLOGY: Microbiological analysis was limited to total and faecal coliforms. The mem­brane filtration technique, chromocult coliform agar (Merck), M-Endo agar Les (BioLab) and M-FC agar (BioLab) were used for the enumeration of coliforms. The physicochemical and microbiological water quality parameters were then compared to the standards set by the SABS (2001) and DWAF Water Quality Guidelines for Domestic Use (DWAF, 1996).

FINDINGS: Out of the 55 surveyed plants only 18% complied with the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) recommended limits in terms of microbiological qual­ity. The major factors that contributed to high bacterial numbers were high turbidity and inefficient chemical (coagulant and chlorine) dosing, which led to low chlorine residuals. It was also noted that although some plants had low bacterial numbers at the point of treatment, bacterial re-growth occurred in the distribution system, thereby compromising the quality of water at the point of use. Operators were also lacking in the required technical knowledge such as flow rate and chemical dosing to effectively execute their duties. Lack of communication between consultants, operators and municipal officials on technical issues relating to plant operation appeared to be a problem. The results of this study gave conclusive evidence that rural water treatment plants are still failing to produce safe drinking water.

RECOMMENDATIONS: To ensure sustainability of these systems, the important requirement is to ensure that the system is reliable; operators are well trained; communities are involved in the decision making; back-up systems are available; and that financial management is also well recognised.

5.TITLE: Farmer hopes for action on polluted river (2010): Author Andrew Stone (senior reporter):

IMPACTED AREA: Cathcart, Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. A Cathcart cabbage farmer is losing hundreds of thousands of rands annually as he is unable to irrigate a large portion of his land because of high pollution levels in the Thorn River.

FINDINGS: The farmer told the Dispatch that between 20 and 25 hectares of land on his 800ha farm were lying idle because he could not use polluted water from the river to irrigate crops. “Not being able to use this land is a big loss for me,” he said, “It’s also devastating from an environmental perspective. The river used to be full of all types of fish.” He said the river was being polluted because septic tanks from the nearby Daliwe Township were overflowing into a small stream, which then flowed into the Thorn River. “Soon after moving on to the farm I noticed there was a problem with the river and started taking water samples, which I sent for testing,” he said. “The water was totally unfit for irrigation purposes The Dispatch visited the township and found water seeping out of the ground. A sample was taken and testing by Monitor Laboratories in Gonubie confirmed that the water sample contained high faecal coliform counts, which indicated sewage contamination. The farmer said the financial implications were huge because under normal conditions he could plant around 20 000 cabbages per hectare of land, and that he sold the cabbages for around R5 each.

RECOMMENDATIONS: Regular desludging of septic tanks and/or expansion of wastewater treatment plants to cater for increased loads may help alleviate such disasters. Also, residents need to be taught on safe disposal methods since most of the material that blocks sewer systems is foreign. They need to be enlightened on the health, economic and ecological consequences of careless disposal of solid wastes. 

6.TITLE: Eastern Cape 'on the brink of a water crisis'. Report by Mail and Guardian reporter Yolandi Groenewadi (2009). (


IMPACTED AREA: The affected village, Mpheko, lies in a drought-hit area including Umtata and the Wild Coast, where ground water has dried up. Nqileni village in Transkei there has no piped water for a 40km radius, and almost all the water consumed by villagers is drawn from springs.

THE PROBLEM: Eight Eastern Cape villagers died this week after drought forced them to drink polluted river water, sparking fears of a wider water quality crisis in the province. The deaths were the result of stomach infections caused by drinking water from the Mpheko River, which is unfit for human consumption. ‘There definitely has been a spike in stomach bugs in the past month or so and I know about districts where baby deaths might be attributed to the water,” a medical worker working near Umtata told the Mail & Guardian.

In Nqileni village in Transkei there is no piped water for a 40km radius, and almost all the water consumed by villagers is drawn from springs. But almost half the springs have dried up and the remaining ones are not far from empty, said Dave Martin, from the NGO Bulungula Incubator. ‘I expect all our springs to be dry by the end of July, in which case the only water source will be deadly polluted rivers,” he said. ‘This is not an alarmist exaggeration: if there is no heavy rain in the next few weeks, everyone will begin drinking polluted water.” He said communities in the area have already started taking water from ‘marginal sources”, including streams polluted by human faeces in a nearby forest. The Bubungula River nearby has been tested and was in a bad condition.

Nqileni is in one of South Africa’s poorest districts, with no running water, electricity, health facilities or sanitation. Previously pigs were used to clean the faeces in the village, but people fell ill after eating the pigs and the practice was stopped. Two years ago at least four babies died in the village from waterborne infections. ‘There is no water,” said headman Thandisile Gwebindlala. ‘We drink water from rivers that cows, horses and people shit in.

‘People are dying a lot because of this. I myself have a stomach bug, and the doctor said it’s the water. But I continue to drink the pills he gave me with the same water that makes me sick.”

RECOMMENDATIONS: ‘We need water tanks and hope the government will give them to us. I have to look after my people, but there is nothing here, not even roads to bring the water tanks in,” he said. The medical worker said there was little he could do to help the villagers without an improved water supply. ‘The department will also deploy other resources to promote health and hygiene and [give] closer attention to disinfection of water meant for domestic consumption,”

7.TITLE: The impact of inadequate wastewater treatment on the receiving water bodies – Case study: Buffalo City and Nkokonbe Municipalities of the Eastern Cape Province (2006). Authored by MNB Momba, AN Osode and M Sibewu: corresponding author


STUDY AREA: The performance of four wastewater treatment plants that serve the Buffalo City (Dimbaza, East London) and Nkokonbe (Alice, Fort Beaufort) Municipal areas in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa was investigated for the removal of microbial and chemical contaminants.

FINDINGS: Statistical evidence showed a relationship between the quality of the final effluent and that of the receiving water body and the relationship was such that the better the quality of the final effluent, the better the quality of the receiving water body. The quality of both the effluents and the receiving water bodies was acceptable with respect to the temperature, pH, chemical oxygen demand (COD) and total suspended solids (TSS). However, in terms of the nutrients (orthophosphate and total nitrogen) the effluents and the receiving water bodies were eutrophic. The dissolved oxygen (DO) and the biological oxygen demand (BOD) did not comply with the EU guidelines for the protection of the aquatic ecosystems. The general microbiological quality of the effluents discharged from all the plants did not comply with the limits set by the South African authorities in respect of pathogens such as Salmonella, Shigella, Vibrio cholera and coliphages. The effluents discharged from the Dimbaza, East London, Alice and Fort Beaufort wastewater treatment plants were identified as pollution point sources into their respective receiving water bodies (Tembisa Dam, the Nahoon and Eastern Beach which are part of the Indian Ocean; the Tyume River and the Kat River).

RECOMMENDATIONS: A more stringent surveillance of the performances of wastewater treatment facilities in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, in order to ensure compliance with stipulated standards is required.


Gcilitshana O1, Okoh A.I1 and Zhou L1.

1Applied and Environmental Microbiology Research Group (AEMREG) Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology University of Fort Hare Private Bag X1314, Alice 5700
South Africa. Email:; Cell +27 (0) 78 6157 699.



The present study is aimed at evaluating the physicochemical and microbiological qualities of the final effluents of two (Komga and Reeston) wastewater treatment plants in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. Microbiological parameters under review include faecal indicator bacteria, adenovirus, rotavirus, norovirus, enteroviruses, hepatitis A and hepatitis E viruses. The assessment of these parameters is done monthly over a projected period of one year, in order to assess the effect of seasonal changes on effluent qualities.  Samples have been collected for the first month (September 2012). For bacteriology, the incidence faecal coliforms has been assessed and not found in effluents from both plants while for virological assessment, samples have been concentrated by the adsorption elution method, preserved for nucleic acid extraction at -80⁰C. For physicochemical parameters, electrical conductivity (380–1242 mg/l), turbidity (19.1 NTU), free chlorine (0.44-6.5 mg/l) and phosphates (0.9-2.7 mg/l) were higher than the standards set by the Department of Water affairs. Turbidity ranged from 10.8 NTU-19.4NTU in effluents from both plants. However, the high chlorine residual concentration (0.44-6.5mg/l) demonstrated effectiveness in disinfecting the water since there were no faecal counts in the effluent samples.  In Reeston, there was high dissolved oxygen concentration (10.14 mg/l) and low biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) levels of 1 mg/l suggesting that the pollution levels were low. More samples will be collected and the viral genomes will also be quantified by Real-Time PCR.


Key words: Wastewater, final effluents, microbiological, physicochemical, real-time PCR.


Identification of industrial and agricultural contaminants in the Kat river, Eastern cape, South Africa. 2015. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, 12: 4231-4246

N Mutingwende and G Bradley


There is growing concern that commonly used Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) and pesticides are entering and contaminating drinking water supplies. The use of targeted quantitation of PPCP has been well established but there is an emerging trend to also screen for and identify unexpected environmental pollutants. In order to properly assess the effects of these compounds on our environment, it is necessary to accurately monitor their presence. The diversity of chemical properties of these compounds makes method development challenging. Although significant advances have been made in controlling point-source pollution, little progress has been made regarding the nonpoint-source pollution on river banks. This is due to increased pollution threats from industrialization and urbanization on the river banks and multiplicity of origins of nonpoint-source pollution. We therefore hypothesize that urbanization and industrialization on the Kat River banks have major impact on downstream farming activities and/or downstream water health and security. This study was therefore aimed at the identification of pollutants in the Kat River due to the use of pesticides by farmers or from the use of pharmaceuticals and personal care products by communities on the banks of the Kat River and the effect of these pollutants on drinking water supplies and on the communities living near or on the river banks. The new AB SCIEX TripleTOF™5600 LC/MS/MS was used to profile environmental samples for unexpected pollutants, to identify and characterize the chemical composition and structure of the pollutants, and to quantify (based on intensity) the concentration in collected water samples. Water samples were collected both upstream and downstream of two WWTPs (Seymour and Fort Beaufort) and were directly injected on the AB SCIEX TripleTOF™5600 LC/MS/MS after being filtered. 15 sample points along the Kat River, ranging from a point as close to the source (control) as possible to a point just before it joins the Great Fish River were used. Points were selected where the Kat River crosses the R67 or on farms where the river was accessible using farm roads. Samples were collected from October 2013 to November 2014. The results reported here in this paper indicate that there is huge influx of pesticides and PPCPs contaminants in the Kat River water. We recommend that water quality monitoring programs be put in place for both Kat River water and drinking water for communities depending on the Kat River Dam to help reduce the exposure of Pesticide and Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Product to people. We also recommend that the Waste Water Treatment Plants (WWTPs) be monitored regularly to make sure they are effectively degrading the influent fed to them before releasing it to the environment.