Dedza’s rugged road to quality water access
By Imam Wali:
Water, which Malawians equate to “life”, is such a fragile product.
When treated properly, it oils the wheels of national development as healthy people contribute fully to national development efforts.
However, one step wrong and it is game over.
This is what has sent some Dedza Airfield residents in panic mode.
One of the residents narrates that, sometimes, the water that runs from taps is dirty,.
She suspects that this might be emanating from the water source.
According to her, Central Region Water Board (CRWB) has to be investigated to see if the water that people have been drinking is clean and safe to drink.
“It is a sad development that people have been consuming unsafe water. The water we have been consuming is hazardous to our health and we will not tolerate a situation where we are treated like animals, This is putting our lives in danger and we need CRWB to take action,” she said
A visit to the water source, which supplies water to over 2,000 people in areas around Airfield, revealed that due to lack of fencing at the source, animals, for example cows and goats plus other wild animals in Dedza Mountain, drink from the source.
The Dedza Secondary School water source is one of the three water sources for Dedza residents.
They were put in place decades ago, when the population was small and manageable.
Speaking about the situation, Dedza Secondary School Head teacher, Joseph Chioza, hoped that CRWB could improve the water situation at the institution to avoid such scenarios.
Apart from animals, Dedza Secondary School students illegally use the water for purposes such as utensil washing, clothes’ washing and bathing, especially when there is no running or piped water on campus.
“That cannot be ruled out because there are days when we go for weeks without running water. When that happens, students go to the mountain to search for water and the water source does not run out of water. So, it can be the case that they do go there and, as school management, we will take measures to ensure that they stop going there,” Chioza said.
One of the Dedza Secondary School students, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, for the past three years he has been at the school, he and his mates have been using the water for a number of purposes.
He added that, in most cases, this is done when there is no running water on campus.
“Of course, we use water at the source for various purposes. We use the water for washing our clothes and plates. And other students also bath at the source. We are not aware of the problems which may arise due to this but it should be noted that this mostly happens when there is no running water in taps,” he said.
According to a reliable source at Dedza Water Board, despite the source being poorly managed, the water at the source is not fit for human consumption as it is poorly treated.
Among other things, the water board official said the water source was not surrounded by a fence as per requirement.
“The water is sporadically treated with chemicals. The other problem is that of poor water filtration,” he said.
This is despite that Sustainable Development Goals promote the right to clean and potable water for all.
Dedza District Hospital environmental officer, a Zimkanda, described the situation as worrisome.
He said, if cases of hospital admission due to water-borne diseases were to go by, then students were not spared.
Zimkanda said there were indications that water could be one of the factors contributing to cases of admission attributable to waterborne diseases.
Monthly, Dedza District Hospital admits an average of 10 to 15 students with various diseases.
Health rights advocate Maziko Matemba said poor quality water was a known factor in places where diseases arising out of water use were common.
“First of all, water and sanitation are key to healthy living. As such, water is life and has to be treated well. To this end, utility bodies need to make sure that all drinking water is safe for the consumer. Utility bodies should, again be transparent so that consumers can understand what is happening. Water consumers have to have a say on issues such as water treatment and the like,” he added.
“When water is not safe, it is a health rights violation and Malawians have to guard against that all the time,” he said.
However, Central Region Water Board Public Relations Officer Zefelino Mitumba said CRWB would erect a wire-fence by the end of April 2022.
“However, this is not an ultimate solution to the possible risks. As such, CRWB employs security guards who patrol the intake site day and night. Just like at any of our existing intakes, the risk of contamination by people throwing in poisonous/ hazardous substances exists. However, the DSS intake is taken as a special case as it is sometimes accessed by students who do study in the forest.
“The risk is lessened by full-time security guards who patrol the area day and night. They also ensure that no animals are brought to the site to drink water. As a result, we do not have any cases and there is no evidence of animals ‘helping themselves’ at the site as alleged,” he said.
Mitumba further said the water CRWB supplies is treated properly.
“The water is treated using drip chlorination. At the intake, water is only captured. If the water is turbid, a valve is closed to prevent intake of turbid water and this only happens after a heavy downpour. Once an acceptable turbidity level is achieved, the water is sieved using a strainer located at the intake, after which the water is treated with HTH (Chlorine). The Chlorine level is controlled to ensure that there is recommended residual Chlorine at the furthest point to ensure that the water is safe,” the CRWB mouthpiece said.
Mitumba added that DSS Alumni recently wanted to drill a borehole for the school, alleging that CRWB was undersupplying the commodity to the institution.
He, however, said the move was being hatched to avert bill payment as Dedza Secondary School only consumes less than 5 percent of the water produced, with the rest going to Dedza town.