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Given the present water shortages across the Metro, Nelson Mandela University is stepping up how it monitors the quality of water on campus.
After two years of disruption over the pandemic, our priority is to ensure that our 29 000 students are able to study safely and complete the 2022 academic year, says the University's SHE Manager, Donevin Lesch.
Taking care of the health of our students and staff is paramount, so we are working closely with our colleagues in Risk, Technical Services, Student Health and Occupational Health. 
Part of doing this is trying to lower water consumption, and become less reliant on the municipal water supply, on all seven of our campuses.
The University’s Water Crisis Task Team has been working tirelessly and, whether or not we do reach the dreaded Day Zero, we have to keep a very close eye on safety, health and environmental (SHE) issues.
Today we face a new challenge as many waterborne illnesses are linked to poor hygiene. Drinking dirty water is the main cause, but poor sanitation also can make waterborne diseases spread faster.
All sorts of diseases can be spread while bathing, washing or by eating food exposed to contaminated water.
And it can be much more than a runny tummy – serious diseases such as cholera or bilharzia are linked to unsafe water and poor hygiene.
How we are warding off threats
With this in mind, we are increasing checks on our facilities so we can ward off any potential threats to health and safety. 
This includes kitchens, residences and ablution facilities.  Catering and Cleaning Services have adapted their working processes to use less water by, for example, switching to waterless menus, using disposable packaging and by using spot-mopping methods.
We inspect all kitchens and food preparation areas every month to scan for waterborne diseases. It is easier to remove germs with hand sanitiser, but unfortunately you cannot use it on your food!
To give you an idea of the scope, Mandela University offers catering across five of our seven campuses, ranging from residence dining facilities to coffee shops, and function and event catering services.
Furthermore, our Infrastructure and Space Optimisation team has teams that check on water-related equipment. 
Technical Services,  already busy introducing alternative water sources, is also inspecting equipment and water systems for leaks, vandalism or anything else that could have an impact on the quality of water, or cause water loss.
If we find pathogens that cause water-borne diseases, then our infectious diseases protocol kicks in – and it’s important to inform students and staff about the symptoms.
We may need to contain, and perhaps quarantine, a residence and provide an alternative supply of water only to that one residence to curb the spread of disease.
Training is key
Another key intervention is training and we have been working closely with several departments to do this.
We also remind staff and students of the importance of personal hygiene. Washing and sanitising hands, especially when visiting the toilet, should never be compromised.
Consequence management is also important. What if someone leaves a tap running and I see? What am I going to do about it?
We saw the role of Mandela University’s Safety, Health and Environment office really come to the fore over COVID-19.
Student water warriors
One of our tasks was to put protocols in place, and make sure that these were followed. 
To help, we asked students to become COVID-19 compliance officers, appointing a team of 15 who were spread across all Mandela campuses, to work with other students.
This boosted the capacity of campus health officials and, with the water crisis, we are doing so again.  We now have students on board as “water warriors” to save water and help with advocacy and awareness.
Sustainable water management
There are also legal requirements on air quality, waste and water in the NEMA (National Environmental Management Act).
We do not want to contribute to greenhouse gases, or expand our carbon footprint, because the University’s Vision 2030 strategic plan has a strong focus on zero harm to the environment.
Best practices include implementing the safety and health standard ISO 45001 and the environmental standard ISO 14001 with the intention to be internationally certified for compliance. An independent audit company will come to certify these within the next year.
Putting in place and maintaining a legally compliant health, safety and environmental management system is multi-faceted as students, staff and outside contractors all have to work together towards a common goal.
Take the building of our new residences in Summerstrand, where more than 1,800 student beds will soon be available. 
In this regard, SHE has to check excavation permits so that underground pipes don’t accidentally get dug up or hit. There must be no chance of contamination between lines carrying effluent and fresh water!
Tank water, which may have been standing, has to meet the South African National Standard (SANS) 241 for drinking water.
Maintenance of technical systems is vital, and repairs must be done as soon as possible. 
It is about more than just checking existing sources of water, it is also about protecting and securing them safely into the future.
This means doing all that we can to have a safe and sustainable campus for our students and staff to flourish.

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777