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Labour of thirst

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COMMUNITY MEMBERS’ TREASURE—Equipment for water pumping

Pushed left, right and centre by natural disasters such as tropical storms Ana and Gombe, which hit some parts of the country early this year, Shire Valley people are now waking up to the reality that they have to search for potable water.

Ironically, most of the Shire Valley people who are in camps were displaced by tropical storm-induced floods; an avalanche of water that washed away crops in fields, swept away livestock, destroyed household utensils, claimed lives and left scores of people injured.

Nevertheless, the problem of lack of potable water transcends the period of floods that characterised life at the beginning of this year.

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People from the two Shire Valley districts of Chikwawa and Nsanje usually struggle to access clean water because most water sources are salty.

Some years back, the government facilitated the establishment of gravity-flow piped water supply schemes across the country, with Nsanje and Chikwawa residents among the beneficiaries of the initiative.

Chikwawa District, for instance, counts two gravity-fed rural water supply schemes (GFS)— namely East Bank, comprising of four intakes (Mapelera, Livunzu, Mbadzi and Limphagwi) and Chapananga GFS— among its initiatives.

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The schemes are designed to supply water to traditional authorities (T/As) in the district.

However, some of the schemes started falling in a state of disrepair.

This is because, according to community members such as 48-year-old Ruth Simeon, some of the schemes were not rehabilitated for a long time until 2018 when Water for People rehabilitated East Bank GFS to help community members around the area access clean and potable water.

According to the 2014- 20 Malawi Rural Water Supply Investment Plan, Mapelera, Limphangwi and Livunzu schemes were earmarked for major rehabilitation while Mbadzi scheme was identified for rehabilitation and potential expansion as all schemes were not functioning.

As such, since 2018, Water for People officials have, in partnership with Chikwawa District Council officials, been working in the East Bank, rehabilitating and expanding facilities to enhance access to water.

The rehabilitation focused on all four schemes of Mbadzi GFS [81 communal taps], Livunzu GFS [89 communal taps], Mapelera GFS [70 communal taps] and, finally, Limphangwi GFS, where there are 110 communal taps.

The project is being implemented with support from Charity Water.

However, following extensive damage caused by Tropical Storm Ana to water intake pipes laid onto walls of upland rivers, only 70 out of the 350 rehabilitated communal taps are working.

The damage to rehabilitated water schemes has affected a population of 42,000 people on the eastern bank of the Shire River.

Chikwawa Member of Parliament Rodrick Khumbanyiwa laments the damage and further calls on the government and organisations such as Water for People to help in addressing problems associated with access to potable water.

Speaking when Water and Sanitation Minister Abida Mia toured water reservoirs at Limphangwi, Khumbanyiwa said there was a need to address problems which people in the Shire Valley face when they need potable water.

“Water challenges are a daily song here in the East Bank. We are struggling, a situation made worse this year, when tropical storm-induced floods hit some parts of the country, especially in the Southern Region. As you know, the districts of Chikwawa and Nsanje were adversely affected by the floods.

“The schemes were very helpful in providing clean and potable water to people around this area. However, extensive damage caused by the floods has taken us two steps backward,” he told the minister.

“A healthy community is one that contributes meaningfully to the development of a nation. As such, we hope that you, honourable minister, you will appreciate the work that is being done here and, in a way, help in making sure that water is gravitated to a lot of community members so that they benefit,” he added.

Sub Traditional Authority Chiputula concurred with Khumbanyiwa, saying the damage caused by tropical storms is burdening community members, as they now have to brave long distances to fetch water.

However, not all hope is lost, according to Ulemu Chiluzi, who is Water for People Country Director.

“We, as organisations, as well as other partners are committed to rehabilitating the scheme by end of June 2022,” she said.

Chiluzi was quick to say Water for People was focusing on climate resilient WASH infrastructure, notably water schemes under Tsamba.

Speaking after appreciating the rehabilitation works by Water for People both at East Bank and Tsamba solar-propelled water scheme, Mia said such efforts were complimenting government’s projects aimed at ensuring that clean and potable water is available to all people in Malawi.

“Our goal is to ensure that clean and potable water is accessible to available. However, we know that government alone cannot manage to make that happen. So we appreciate and commend all initiatives by non-State actors.

“I am very impressed and pleased with what I have witnessed both at East Bank and here at Tsamba. Water is a very crucial commodity. When we fix water challenges, community members thrive. We will continue working hand-in-hand with such organisations for the betterment of the nation as a whole,” she said.

Meanwhile, demand for water is expected to increase by 2050 as the world’s population is forecast to grow by one-third to more than nine billion, according to the United Nations.

As climate change strengthens, drought is becoming more frequent and severe in southern African countries such as Malawi and that is taking a heavy toll on those in rural areas and national economies.

Of course, citizens, too, have the responsibility of protecting and sustaining water sources, particularly those in their locations.

Indeed, contaminated water can have serious health implications including the prevalence of water-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery, higher rates of child mortality and greater chances of infection among mothers and newborns.

Shire Valley people are already bearing witness to this.

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