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Area 18 Taskforce for re-assessment of victims

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A taskforce President Peter Mutharika instituted to probe circumstances that led to the contamination of water in Lilongwe’s Area 18A last year has recommended that competent authorities should find the exact number of people affected by the contamination.

Chairperson of the taskforce, Rex Chiluzi, who presented the findings of the report to Mutharika Monday, through Chief Secretary to the Government Lloyd Muhara, said it is through that process that only deserving people can be compensated.

“The Taskforce established that some households were indeed affected by some of the contaminated water. Unfortunately, there are conflicting figures on the number of the affected households as provided by different stakeholders. In this regard, the extent of the effect of the contaminated water on people needs further determination by competent authorities,” Chiluzi said.

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Chiluzi said Lawyers Forum for Human Rights says there are 269 households, Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) says there are 83 while the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) says there are 150 households.

“The taskforce found that the figure 83, which was provided by LWB, was based on proper assessment while the other two figures had no basis,” he said.

After the presentation of the report, when asked on who the committee thinks are “competent authorities” to assess the extent of the contamination, Chiluzi said officials from the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs would be better placed, considering that the issue is to do with compensation.

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The committee was instituted on August 22 2017 and was given 14 days to do the work. It found that, indeed, the water was contaminated.

“The taskforce found and confirmed that water was indeed contaminated with sewage on 18th July 2017. The source of the sewage was a blocked sewer line that resulted in an overflowing manhole. The sewage had been flowing in a roadside drain along Salima Street passing where the board’s water pipe burst, which was 100 metres away from the overflowing manhole,” reads part of the report.

It points out that although Lilongwe City Council (LCC) and LWB started working on the problem on the first day, MHC did not want to take any responsibility until it was compelled by the Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources and Climate Change to repair the sewer line within four days.

The committee observes that this was unfortunate because the incident happened within MHC housing estate.

“The taskforce found that MHC, being the landlord, is responsible for the management of the sewer line network within area 18 Housing Estate,” reads the report.

Another notable recommendation of the report is that MHC, LWB and LCC and owners of private houses within Area 18 should immediately join hands to find lasting solutions to sewage and water systems to avoid a recurrence of the incident in Area 18 and other parts of the city.

The report also says the Ministry of agriculture and Water Development and the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development should lead the process of ensuring that LCC and LWB are carrying out their mandate in relation to public sewer management as provided for in the Local Government Act, Public Works Act and Water Works Act.

Muhara said Mutharika delegated him to receive the report.

“The report has been ready for some time but the President was unable to receive it because of other equally important engagements. Now he has delegated the assignment to me,” Muhara said.

The Chief Secretary said the report is important to the country.

“The report has given answers to some of the questions people had. It has given us a clear picture of what happened that day,” Muhara said.

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