Cape Town must be one of the greatest cities in the world - and it currently leads the race to be named the world's greatest city in The Telegraph's Annual Travel Awards for third consecutive year. It has it all - the climate, the scenery, friendly people and of course, the pristine environment that we all long for... Or is it?
This weekend, a popular investigative television programme revealed that Cape Town runs the risk of losing vast numbers of visitors and even poses health hazards to its own communities by their continual pumping of raw, untreated sewage and effluent into the ocean. It is claimed that as much as four million litres of contaminated water is being pumped offshore every day, and environmentalists and community members are having none of it.
Recently, the problems were highlighted after an aerial photographer took pictures of the city which showed clear plumes of discharge in the forefront, and this has seemed to reignite the battles that have been fought for years. At the heart of the problem is the fact that sewage is being pumped into both the Hout Bay and False Bay against international best practice recommendations, resulting in tidal action pushing the microbes - and daresay the floating bits, back to the beaches in these two important areas. Surf paddlers and boat owners report having to make their way through patches of brown, grey, polluted and unbelievably smelly water less than two kilometers offshore, and the problem seems to be getting bigger.
But, globally, coastal cities treat their effluent the same way - pump it to sea through pipelines as long as two kilometres, and hope that the currents and winds stay offshore. While this tends to address the problems of dealing with the waste in a cost-effective and simplistic way, there is general acceptance that pumping of sewage and effluent into bays is extremely dangerous and no longer acceptable. Tests to the beaches in Hout Bay have shown contamination that will result in sickness and while the City is aware of the problem, it continues to dump sewage onto its beaches. Fishermen complain of contaminated, smaller catches close to the shoreline, while sports paddlers report high incidents of sickness among their numbers.
As one commentator put it, dilution has long been held as a means to minimise waste to the sea, but in reality, science has shown that irrespective of the motives or the controls that are put in place, the discharged waste is having a negative and lasting effect on marine life - and of course, on our own food chain - not because of the sewage per se, but because of the harmful poisons, chemicals, additives and even medicines that are being flushed with it. Treating human waste is one thing, while trying to stop the pollutants that we add to it is quite another.
Cape Town has a number of 'Blue Flag' beaches, many of which are affected by this practice, and with the high profile the city enjoys globally, it is only a matter of time before tourism is affected by this unnecessary and totally avoidable practice. Stop the offshore pumping of untreated sewage and effluents - and develop land based treatment facilities to deal with the problem long before it ever reaches the ocean. In that way, we can enjoy what the Cape has to offer without fearing for our health or for the sustainability of what we eat from the sea.