“We want answers — this is mass poisoning,” marcher Wendy Reading told Brown. Placards demanded, “Keep our water safe!” and “Clean water, when?” Whole families got sick from the contamination. Two people died and three contracted the crippling Guillain-Barre Syndrome during the outbreak. The crisis drew attention to the decayed state of much of country’s water infrastructure.
“The Communist League calls for a massive public works program to create jobs at union wage rates,” Brown explained. “This could help clean up polluted waterways, repair and replace crumbling infrastructure, and build new treatment plants where they’re needed, to ensure the provision of safe drinking water.”
The day of the march the Hastings District Council lifted its “boil water” instruction for residents that it had announced three weeks earlier after campylobacter and other harmful bacteria turned up in the town’s water supply, which was unchlorinated.
Mark Gifkis, the principal of a primary school in the nearby town of Flaxmere, told Brown that pupils who traveled to Havelock North for sports were hit hard. “Out of our roll of 550, 80 children got sick, and of the teaching staff of 40, eight to nine were sick,” he said.
Havelock North’s contaminated water supply was finally closed in late August. Water, with chlorine added, began flowing instead from nearby Hastings city. E. coli, a bacteria found in feces, had previously been discovered in Havelock North’s groundwater supply in 2013 and 2015, but no action was taken.
The district council announced that it would refund 57 New Zealand dollars ($40) to ratepayers. Individuals wanting compensation for lost wages or other hardship were told to contact the government’s Work and Income welfare agency.
“The NZ$57 rebate relates to homeowners,” retired builder Allen Hessell, told Brown. “What’s going to happen to people in rental housing?” Hessell’s wife also joined the march, but had to ride much of the way in a wheelchair she has needed since being hit by the gastro bug.
Pollution of rivers, lakes and streams has increased with the expansion of industry and agriculture. Over 60 percent of monitored waterways in New Zealand today are deemed unsafe for swimming.
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