Slow-onset disaster and sustainable livelihoods: the Vaal River in the vicinity of Parys

19 January 2011

This article is based on data gathered during a research project commissioned by the Fezile Dabi District Municipality in the northern part of South Africa’s Free State Province. The research team (which included the authors) was asked to investigate allegations of pollution of tap water, as well as sewage from the local wastewater treatment plant flowing into the Vaal River in the town of Parys on the banks of the Vaal River. The authors adopt a sustainable livelihoods approach in analysing data gathered by way of unstructured interviews in and around Parys in June–July 2008. They argue that actual and perceived levels of pollution are eroding various local livelihood assets and it is posited that the situation constitutes an unfolding slow-onset disaster. It is imperative that shocks such as sewerage spills and rumours of polluted potable water are addressed to ensure that these do not become long-term negative trends.