Service providers Friday ducked and dived during the public hearing instituted by the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) into the Area 18 water contamination saga, as scores of residents have contracted waterborne diseases after consuming the water, Malawi News can reveal.
Officials from the service providers—Lilongwe Water Board (LWB), Lilongwe City Council (LCC) and Malawi Housing Corporation (MHC)— were noncommittal on whether they would compensate people who have been affected after drinking the contaminated water.
During the public hearing— which was chaired by MHRC Chairperson Bertha Sefu—LWB Chief Executive Officer, Alfonso Chikuni, said his organisation had been equally affected since the incident as it has had to replace pipes in Area 18.
LCC acting Chief Executive Officer, Charles Makanga, and MHC Regional Manager for the Centre, Fredrick Malongo, said they needed to consult their superiors on the matter before they could commit.
The public hearing fell short of assuring Area 18 residents—over 50 of whom were in attendance—of quality water, over two weeks after the contamination occurred, after Makanga disclosed that the sewer system is outdated and needs to be overhauled.
Some of the residents complained of waterborne diseases and lack of communication between service providers and them since the incident.
However, the three service providers apologised to the residents and have assured that they are doing everything possible to replace both the dilapidated sewer and water pipes, respectively.
Health rights activist, Maziko Matemba, who attended the hearing, was insistent that Area 18 residents who were affected due to the contamination needed to be compensated.
“Lilongwe Water Board, Malawi Housing Corporation and Lilongwe City Assembly keep shifting blame, but they are all culprits. They need to sit down to find ways of compensating the affected people,” Matemba said.
In our extensive investigation for the past week, several people have come forward to disclose that they developed diarrhoea after drinking the contaminated water.
Faecal matter from a burst sewer pipe in the township reportedly seeped into a LWB water supply pipe on July 18.
Several visits to over 150 affected houses in the area show that children, men and women have reportedly developed illnesses.
A medical report Malawi News has seen indicates that a lot of people are suffering from waterborne diseases and have been on medication.
Gift Phiri, a resident of the township, explained that he has been on medication for diarrhoea after drinking contaminated water.
Phiri said that on the day he woke up in the morning and, as is his daily routine, drunk two litres of water, but he said it tasted differently.
Elineti Matupa—whose two kids were admitted for four days to hospital after suffering from diarrhoea due to the effects of water contamination—lamented that the development greatly inconvenienced her family.
“My kids felt sick, the results showed they had bacterial infection and I knew it was because of contamination of water. Up to now, none of the authorities has explained what happened, they have left us in the dark; this is very bad,” Matupa lamented.
Doris Chanache, a member of the committee for residents whose families have been affected, faulted all authorities responsible for the incident for their silence on the matter.
Meanwhile, Malawi News understands that a restriction placed on LWB staff from working outside the normal working hours may have contributed to the prolonged exposure to contaminated water.
In a July 13 memo, LWB advises staff that all vehicles have been geo-fenced and only allowed to be operating from 7:30am to 5pm.
But in an interview, Chikuni has dismissed the claims describing them as a lie.
He said the vehicles that are said to have been geo-fenced are the same vehicles that were on the ground around 4am when the incident happened.
In a statement released last week, Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen) Executive Director, George Jobe, says the mixing up of piped water with sewage is a gross violation of human rights as it touches on human life and is a health hazard.
According to Jobe, Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights dictates that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”.
Jobe said his organisation would like authorities to explain the cause of this unhealthy situation.
The organisation wants the authorities to explain how long was the sewer system damaged and not maintained, how the water pipe was damaged and not maintained, what interventions will be carried on the concerned people, among others.
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