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Clash of policies blamed for water woes

A WAR of words has ensued between Mpira Water Trust (Mpwat) and Balaka residents over Mpira-Balaka GravityFed Rural Water Project Management.

Speaking in an interview recently, Balaka National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust District Manager, Henrie Gwedeza, said people in the villages feel shortchanged that after digging trenches for laying of water pipes for free, Mpwat now sells the water to Southern Region Water Board (SRWB).

“We have had numerous interface meetings with people and they are not happy that after breaking their backs digging trenches, water is now being sold by SRWB at their expense,” he said.

Gwedeza said the people feel the water ought to be sold by Mpwat and should not be sold to SRWB who resell it at a high price. This means people feel SRWB sells water which it does not have, thereby denying real beneficiaries of Mpira Water Dam access.

However, Mpwat chairperson, Senior Chief Kwataine, said the main reason water does not reach most of its intended beneficiaries was the conflict between government policies.

“We have a situation where two policies are not talking to each other. The forestry policy demands that this time around they should harvest the trees around the Mpira Water Dam catchment area whereas the water policy is encouraging conservation of the trees for the sustainability of the dam,” Kwataine said.

He said as a result there is massive deforestation and encroachment of the catchment area, a situation that threatens the largest gravity-fed water scheme in Africa.

Deputy Director for Water Supply Services Responsible for Operation, Maintenance, Monitoring and Evaluation in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, Emma Mbalame, said although SRWB gets the water it supplies to Balaka Town from Mpwat, it was a customer just like anybody else.

“It is actually up to Mpwat to maintain SRWB as one of its customers or not. However, government’s responsibility is to ensure that the priority that was set for the construction of Mpira-Balaka GravityFed Rural Water Scheme is maintained which is to supply potable water mostly to the rural areas of Ntcheu, Balaka, parts of Neno and Mangochi,” Mbalame said.

She said it was only after the rural people’s water needs have been met that SRWB can get water to supply to Balaka Town although due to bottlenecks the truth is far from reality.

WaterAid Programme Manager for Advocacy and Policy, Anne Msosa, said they convened the advocacy meeting after observing the serious water problems dogging Mpwat

. “The challenges Mpwat is facing are numerous some of which are deforestation, encroachment of catchment area, aging water pipes and inadequate revenue collected from rural water users,” Msosa said.

Msosa said they are looking at the policies that are affecting Mpwat to make sure they are in sync with each other.

She said WaterAid aims to ensure that everyone has access to water and it would not make sense to deny some people [residents of Balaka Town] access to water instead of ensuring that those that don’t have get the water.

Earlier on Centre for Human Rights and Institute for National Social Initiative (Chinansi) Foundation Executive Director, Simplex Chithyola, presented an overview of outcomes from Kalondolondo water governance survey they did in Balaka which revealed glaring irregularities in the supply, billing, connection and reconnection and quality of the water supplied by both Mpwat and SRWB

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