While the government records that Malawi has achieved over 80 percent in potable water access, 10 villages in the area of Traditional Authority Jenala in Phalombe have gone 20 years relying on one shallow well located in Chibisa village.
Worse still, the well does not give the water always as, on some periods, people are required to wait for anything between two days and one week before the well has enough water for people to draw.
There are several other man-made unprotected shallow wells around the area but these go dry very early in the summer season, leaving the one in Chibisa village as the most reliable water point.
On our visit to Chibisa village last Tuesday, we found a large number of cases of people riding bicycles or walking carrying yellow 25-litre buckets in search of water.
We learnt that for 20 years now, communities from Chibisa, Chirombo, Mwerikhomo, Mzadwaza, Tawanga, Pepala, Nakhaonga, Mtikwa, Mmeza and Peleya spend a minimum of eight hours awaiting their turn to fetch water.
We also learnt that in the 20 years the villages have had this problem, politicians have used their plight as a campaign tool in the run up to elections, only not to act once they are voted into office.
These water-starved villages are located in Phalombe North constituency which has had three parliamentarians since the multiparty democracy era. They are Joshua Kafunsa (1994-99), Justin Mokowa (1999-2004) and Anna Kachikho who has been MP for three terms now since 2004.
Village Headman Chibisa said the issue has been discussed at length in most Village Development Committee (VDC) meetings over the years but nothing has happened.
“The only thing we saw is the pipes and structures that were constructed 10 years ago but nothing came out of it. We have never had the said piped water and no reason was given for the abandonment of the project,” he said.
There is one borehole at Mianga Primary School but communities are not allowed to fetch water from there when schools are in session.
Treasurer for Mianga School Borehole Committee, Dyson Mmeza, said the borehole regularly breaks down due to over usage and the committee usually struggles to raise funds to repair it.
“We have tried to introduce a fee per bucket or gallon but it has not worked out. It seems people do not have money to buy water,” he said.
The Phalombe District Water Office confirmed that there is a long standing acute water problem not only in TA Jenala area but also in the entire district.
District water officer for Boston Tambala said the 10 villages have suffered for a long time due to misunderstandings that arose between the council and a non-governmental organisation which embarked on a water project in the area without doing a proper assessment.
“Since this was done without following procedures, it was stopped indefinitely. We intend to kick-start a rehabilitation project in January through the Department of Water Development. We are also relying on NGOs to assist us with borehole drilling,” he said.
Malawi is one of the countries that committed to achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal six of the SDGs call on all nations to ensure access to water and sanitation for all by 2030.
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