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Machinga residents lied to and used on water project

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Machinga, Malawi – Malawi Communities in Chibwana, Chipamba and Mwakulisha villages in Traditional Authority Sitola in Machinga are being forced to go back to the terror of crocodiles and suffer the impacts of unsafe water following the apparent failure of a water scheme project in the area.

In a truly functional society, the villages which are located not too far from Liwonde Township should not have been among those suffering from potable water crisis in the country.

For, to their east there stretches the rolling Chikala Hills which are a source of several rivers that run throughout the year.

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To the west lumbers the mighty Shire River transporting thousands of cubic litres of water every second to the oceans of the world.

In between the two are located the villages in question – parched like a leaf dried in the sun and desperate for a life-saving drop on their tongues.

On the list of their nightmares, lack of potable water ranks high.

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Times toured the area on Saturday last week. This was a fourth trip we have undertaken to the area since 2009 investigating the water situation in the district.

On our latest visit, we witnessed women clutching empty buckets as they walked in the sun on the errand to fetch water from unprotected wells, from the Shire River and from sparsely-located boreholes.

The crisis is so acute that even people as young as Egile Andwatch, 14, of Chibwana village feels the pinch.

A standard 7 pupil at one of the schools in the area, Egile said to ensure that her household has safe water to drink for the day, she wakes up early in the morning every day joining her mother on a walk that takes them over 45 minutesone way to their nearest borehole.

“I am usually late for school because it is far where we draw water. It’s hard to get potable water in this area. For all other domestic purposes we fall back on unsafe sources. Others go the Shire River,” she told Times.

The borehole where Egile and her mother go to is actually a symbol of the failure of the gravity-fed water scheme that flourished and watered people’s lives in the area in the period before 1994.

It is also evidence of the failure of recent efforts by the District Council, Water Aid Malawi and their partners to rehabilitate the Namikomya Water Scheme.

Studies by Water Aid Malawi show that before 1994, clean water access was not a problem in Machinga as a whole as the administration of Dr Kamuzu Banda had exploited the 10 perennial rivers in the rivers and established 11 gravity-fed water schemes in the district between 1974 and 1990.

These schemes readily supplied communities with potable water.

Namikomya Water Scheme was one of them and was one of the largest.

According to Water Aid Malawi, the schemes were owned by the government such that government workers were responsible for fixing the pipes and mending leakages.

Government covered the full cost of materials and skilled labour for both construction and maintenance and retained the ownership of the systems, says Water Aid.

From 1994, the new multi-party administration started holding back its financial and human resource support to the schemes, effectively requiring communities to take over control.

But Water Aid Malawi observes that this policy, however good it was, was disruptive in the sense that communities had not been prepared enough to take up the challenge of managing the facilities.

Thus, the schemes collapsed depriving communities a source of potable water.

The new government came in with boreholes, but communities in the area say the boreholes failed to address water problems in the area because the work was substandard such that most of the facilities became dysfunctional as soon as they were drilled.

On our visit last Saturday, we found boreholes that have not functioned for years and communities, unorganised and struggling to find money, are failing to rehabilitate those broken.

In 2007, Water Aid Malawi in conjunction with the Machinga District Council started work to revitalise Namikomya Water Scheme.

In our earlier visits, we witnessed communities taking a huge role digging trenches and laying pipes.

We witnessed taps being fixed in selected homes. There was hope.

Today, 8 years after the work started, the villages are still reeling from water shortages and there is now frustration around the area.

“It has been a lie of a project. The council and Water Aid should know the truth about why we still do not have the water,” said Ashula Ntaja from Chipamba village.

Another citizen, Haji Bisani felt the communities had been abused.

“We feel lied to and abused. The council and Water Aid came here promising things. We needed the water and we played our part.

“Today, no one is telling us where the water is. So, our women are going back to the Shire River putting their lives at risk because that river is infested by crocodiles. We have lost some of them to those crocodiles and others have lost their limbs due to crocodile attacks,” said the highly-charged Bisani.

We sought an explanation from Boyce Nyirenda for Water Aid and Steve Meja, District Water Development Officer for Machinga.

However, both had not yet responded to our emailed questions as we went to print.

But former chairperson for Namikomya Water Scheme, Sam Phiri, admitted that the scheme no longer inspires hope among the communities it was supposed to serve.

“I am no longer in the committee that was tasked to run the scheme but what I can say is that things do not seem to be working. Work has stalled and people don’t understand what is going on. The scheme is no longer the one that gave us a lot of expectation when the works to rehabilitate it started in 2007,” he said.

 

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