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Funding cuts leave faeces in drinking water

19 June 2011

Funding cuts leave faeces in drinking water

A Government funding freeze and cuts have left rural communities drinking dirty water, the Green Party said today.

The Capital Assistance Programme aims to support small communities of under 5,000 people to improve drinking water quality, but the programme was put on hold in September 2009 for a governmental review. The programme was reinstated at the end of 2010, but with stricter eligibility criteria for communities and an $18 million budget cut.

“Some communities have faeces in their drinking water and yet the Government has limited their ability to clean up their water sources,” said Green Party Co-leader Dr Russel Norman.

“Many of these small communities want to improve their water supplies but simply do not have the funds.

“At a time when nearly half of our lakes and around 90 per cent of our lowland rivers are classed as polluted, and these are the source of drinking water for many communities, the Government needs to be investing more money into helping communities supply clean, safe drinking water, not less.

“The Government’s sixteen month freeze on the drinking water capital works assistance program has limited communities’ ability to address drinking water concerns that were highlighted by the Ministry of Health a year ago.”

Information obtained by the Green Party under the Official Information Act shows that some District Health Boards (DHBs) have made progress in their efforts to help communities improve drinking water, but thirty percent of DHBs said that the freeze on funding had been a limiting factor for some communities to improve their drinking water and monitoring regimes.

Roughly half of the country’s DHBs gave examples of work they were doing to address Ministry of Health recommendations, or indicated that they were working with contracted public health service providers to do so. Others indicated that they were working with communities, and three DHBs responded that they had made no progress towards addressing concerns.

“The Ministry of Health recommended that some DHBs remind local water suppliers that faeces in drinking water is a public health concern, and yet the Government is limiting their ability to eliminate contamination,” said Dr Norman.

The responsibility for ensuring safe drinking water supplies falls across the jurisdiction of several sectors, including DHBs, local councils, public health service providers and water suppliers who are contracted by local authorities to provide water. Ultimately it is the responsibility of the DHBs to audit other local authorities and contractors to ensure they are fulfilling their requirements.

“The Ministry of Health plans to publish their Annual Review of Drinking Water Quality for 2009/2010 by the end of the month” said Dr Norman. “I imagine we’ll then get an even clearer picture of how the Government’s spending cuts have affected communities’ ability to improve drinking water supplies.”

Ministry of Health’s Annual Review of Drinking Water Quality 2008/09:

Nearly half our lakes and 90% of our lowland rivers are classed as polluted:

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