By Jameson Chauluka & Alick Ponje:
Pressure continues to mount on Southern Region Water Board (SRWB), which wants to tap water from Lake Malawi at Nkhudzi Bay in Mangochi District, with 10 organisations asking the Malawi Environmental Protection Authority (Mepa) to reject the project’s current design.
The organisations, which include Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (Cepa), Sustainable Development Institute, Lake Shepherd and Churches Action in Relief and Development, want the design to be reviewed.
They argue that the project’s environmental and social impact assessment is not expressly addressing critical areas regarding the protection of a world heritage site, where the works are expected to be done.
In the current design, treatment plants are supposed to be erected at the foot of Nkhudzi Bay with a reservoir tank on Nkhudzi Hill, which is within Lake Malawi National Park, a world heritage site.
Among other things, the 10 organisations want Mepa to evaluate the time the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) was done to see if, by that time, critical decisions had not already been made.
“This requirement is based on the understanding that assessments that take place late in the decision-making process or after the decision has been made cannot adequately inform decision-makers,” they say in a statement released yesterday.
The statement also says other alternatives to the project were not adequately explored and communicated to the authorities.
“This principle is consistent with Guidelines for Environmental Impact Assessment in Malawi, which require that alternative sites, processes, designs and operating conditions should be considered and assessed for their environmental and socio-economic implications as part of the ESIA process.
“On the contrary, a major shortfall of the ESIA for the Extension of the Mangochi Potable Water Supply Project is the absence of a clear analysis of alternatives,” the statement reads.
Mepa acting Director Tawonga Mbale Luka said the authority had been calling for such inputs from stakeholders, adding that the views would be considered when it will be looking at SRWB’s ESIA on the project.
“I have seen the recent statement on social media but I know that Cepa separately wrote their own statement raising the same issues.
“At this stage, we do not have a position on whether the project should go on or not. We have been receiving views from last week and are now compiling everything. From that, we will come up with our position,” she said.
Some locals in villages around Nkhudzi Bay have, however, welcomed the project, saying what matters is that they have clean and potable water in their homes.
Mesha Dickson said, for a long time, people from her area have being relying on unsafe water fetched straight from the lake.