WELLINGTON • The New Zealand government yesterday launched an inquiry into the contamination of a North Island town's water supply that has left thousands of people ill, closed schools and businesses and threatened the country's clean and green reputation.
More than 3,300 people in the town of Havelock North have been laid low with gastroenteritis brought on by campylobacter contamination of the drinking water in one of New Zealand's biggest single instances of waterborne disease. Up to 17 people were hospitalised at one stage after the outbreak became known last Friday and one person is still in intensive care with the illness, according to the Hawkes Bay District Health Board, the local health authority.
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said yesterday that the government had initiated an independent inquiry into the water contamination, the cause of which is still unknown.
BY THE NUMBERS
People in Havelock North who have been affected with gastroenteritis.
Number of people who were hospitalised after the outbreak.
Person still in intensive care with the illness.
"The situation in Havelock North is concerning. It is important that the public has confidence in their water supply," he said in a statement. "The inquiry will look at the events surrounding the outbreak and the response, as well as consider any wider systemic issues," he said. "This will be a wide-ranging inquiry to ensure that all New Zealanders can feel confident about the quality of drinking water supplies."
The situation was compounded yesterday when one of the nine water tankers taking drinking water to Havelock North residents was found to be contaminated with E.coli. The water in all the tankers was being chlorinated, along with water supplies in the neighbouring towns of Hastings and Flaxmere, said the Hastings District Council, the local municipal authority, in a statement.
The authorities have advised Havelock North residents to boil drinking water or to drink bottled water until further notice.
On Monday, Radio New Zealand reported Prime Minister John Key saying the situation was unacceptable.
"Fundamentally we need to understand how it took place, because for the number of people that are now sick, it's very clear, given the dilution that you would have expected to take place and the size of the water source, that quite a lot of material has got into the water source," he said in the report.
New Zealand touts its clean, green image abroad under a "100 per cent pure" campaign to attract tourists, as well as to highlight its food and water safety as a hallmark of its premium export products.