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Inside Blantyre Water Board Mulanje Mountain water project

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In the past two years, it almost became a norm to see both males and females criss-crossing the streets of Blantyre with same purpose: fetching water from places that were lucky to have running water.

All the blame went to Blantyre Water Board (BWB) for denying over one million Blantyre City residents their right to life by failing to provide them with portable clean water to justify the board’s slogan “Water is life”.

The board’s inability to provide water has been drawing heavy criticism from all concerned parties. Environment and Natural Resources Committee of Parliament through its Chair Werani Chilenga, for example, blamed the board for lacking expertise to pump enough water from the ever-flowing Shire River.

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In response, the board came up with two projects to alleviate the challenges apart from relying on the Shire River alone.

It first started rehabilitating the Mudi Dam to recover its lost initial depth of 1.5 million cubic metres that its Director of Engineering Services Mavuto Chiipanthenga claims was lost due to siltation.

Second, government through the board announced plans to tap water from the Likhubula River on the Mulanje Mountain.

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The tapping of water from Likhubula River has, however, not gone without glitches. Communities surrounding the mountain, especially those from Senior Chief Mkanda, want the board to plant trees on the mountain before tapping the water.

To underline their call, the villagers under the leadership of a grouping called Citizens for the Protection of Mulanje Mountain (CPM) nearly stoned Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Minister, George Chaponda, who was inspecting the project’s water intake point in August 2016.

Later, blame game surfaced within CPM that saw some members of the group accusing their fellows of trying to sabotage the water intake project which they said is important to their community apart from Blantyre City residents.

“It was surprising to hear our colleagues boasting in drinking joints that the mountain water will get them rich. They could as well go and cause trouble at the office of the district forestry officer because they wanted to be signatories to the offices’ budget. Through their operations, we were all seen as controversial people who do not want development, we all want trees but it transpired that the said CPM wanted other personal benefits. As such, we have dissolved the group in our village,” says former member of CPM Peter Kolokombe, who is also a tour guide on Mulanje Mountain.

Kolokombe, who admits that the villagers stoned Chaponda, says the villagers were wrongly advised.

But CPM Secretary General David Majeweta, whose group went back to Chapoda and issued an apology, squares the blame on the mountain’s surrounding communities led by Group Village Head (GVH) Nakhonyo.

He alleges that the chief has been pocketing money from BWB, the District Forestry Office and Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT) to endorse the project without considering the consequences.

He says CPM wants to conserve the mountain and protect its resources from depletion due to projects like the BWB’s.

“There are some people who are against us; they are all over tarnishing our image but as CPM what we wanted was to see that trees are planted on the mountain and nothing else. Now we are happy that the tree-planting exercise has started and people have been employed to clear the land,” Majeweta says.

GVH Nakhonyo says the conduct of CPM members has brought shame on her chieftaincy and that of Senior Chief Mkanda.

“We all had the same agenda at first to ensure that BWB plants trees on the mountain. We were neither aiming at threatening officers who are sent by government to work here nor stoning the minister. CPM leaders mobilised people here and told them lies about what the minister wanted to do and later it was I who was seen as controversial. We also heard that they were meeting presidential adviser on non-government organisation where they were getting allowances. That is all they wanted and not to help.

“The President came here to launch the project and if we continued resisting, they would go ahead without even planting trees because some want to get riches while we want to conserve the environment, so we allowed the project to proceed and the board has also started planting trees,” Nakhonyo says.

Nakhonyo Village Forestry Committee Chairerson Dyson Rabson thinks when trees are planted, the mountain will have enough water worth tapping to Blantyre.

“When pine trees were all over the mountain some decades ago, water levels in the mountain’s rivers were just high. I believe the same will happen if the mountain is reforested,” Rabson says.

Meanwhile, the tree-planting exercise has started on Chambe basin, which is the catchment area for Likhubula River. At its onset, BWB and Mulanje District Forestry Department is set to plant pine and other natural trees on 42 hectares of the mountain.

The board’s Public Relations Manager Priscilla Mateyu says in the next 10 years, they will plant pine and other natural trees on over 520 hectares of the mountain as part of the project.

“We will also be constructing water harvesting structures to serve us during the summer, we are aware that during the period, flow rates of most rivers become low while for the good part of the year, there is plenty of water on the mountain, so that will remedy the situation,” Mateyu says.

Mulanje District Commissioner Fred Movete says the tree-planting exercise on the mountain started on December 19, 2016. Fifty people have been employed so far to carry the exercise which started with land clearing before they start digging the planting stations.

To GVH Nakhonyo, she is happy that some of her people have been employed to plant the trees which they wanted back on the mountain.

Majeweta also hails what he says is a ‘successful’ fight for the protection of the mountain.

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