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Havelock North report shows economic value of water treatment


26 September 2017

A report revealing that Havelock North’s water contamination outbreak has cost around $21million shows that effective water treatment makes economic sense.

Water New Zealand CEO John Pfahlert says it cost just $1million to install a water treatment plant for the Havelock North community following the outbreak.

He says if the plant had been installed before the outbreak, it would not only have prevented more than 5000 people suffering from the debilitating effects of campylobacter, it would have been a very sound economic investment.

The independent report, commissioned by the Ministry of Health, has just been released.

It estimates that the cost of household inconvenience such as boiling water and taking time off normal activities cost $12.4m and that health related costs of $2.5m were relatively modest because of the efficient and effective way in which the general practice and support services were mobilised.

John Pfahlert says that communities and water suppliers need to weigh up the cost of an inevitable outbreak of disease caused by untreated water compared to the relatively minor costs of providing treatment.

“Twenty-one million dollars is a significant amount of money, especially compared to the cost of water treatment. But we also know that water contamination outbreaks have a big human toll. A number of people are still suffering as a result of the Havelock North outbreak and we know there were at least three deaths linked to the water contamination."

He says the outbreak could have been even worse if the strain of campylobacter had been slightly different.

“In that case we could have been looking at a way bigger calamity including a scenario of many more deaths.

“Whatever way you look at it, water treatment is a no brainer and water suppliers need to be very aware that outbreaks are way more costly than preventive treatment.”