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Mulanje water project still facing hitch

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Dust is refusing to settle on the $23.5 million project which the Blantyre Water Board (BWB) intends to start tapping water from Likhubula River on Mulanje Mountain for distribution in Blantyre City.

A grouping calling itself the Citizens for the Protection of Mulanje Mountain (CPM) is once again threatening to sabotage the project on grounds that the government through BWB is not honouring the agreement to plant trees on Chambe Basin which is the main catchment area for Likhubula River.

In an interview yesterday, after officials from the board and members of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, Irrigation and Waster Development led by Chairperson Joseph Chidanti-Malunga toured the project area on Monday, leader of CPM, David Majeweta, said no single tree has been planted on Chambe Basin which is a breach of agreement people of Mulanje made with BWB.

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“I would like to tell all Malawians that we will not allow the project to progress based on the current situation. We are surprised that the board is going ahead making final touches with the Indian contractor, yet the trees have not been planted. On our part, we will not allow anyone to come here for the project as that will mean chaos. It will be a repeat of what happened on August 29 2016 when then Agriculture minister was stoned here. It would even be worse than that because this is what we have agreed as communities surrounding the mountain,” Majeweta said.

On 29 August last year, villagers surrounding Likhubula stoned the then Agriculture minister George Chaponda on grounds that government was not complying with their demands to have the Chambe Basin dressed with trees before commencement of the project.

After a stalemate on the project last year, concerned parties held a series of discussions where they had a consensus that the trees will be planted on 5, 000 hectares on the mountain.

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Chidanti-Malunga, however, said despite everything the project is important as it will solve water problems in Blantyre City.

“At the rate Blantyre City is growing, the need for water also grows, hence a greater need to plan for future demand for water. We as a committee therefore support the project,” Malunga said.

Chairperson of the Environmental and Natural Resources Committee of Parliament Welani Chilenga, while maintaining that he is not in support of the project, said planting the trees is important, otherwise, the project will be a total failure and a waste of time.

“Our point remains that BWB’s problem is not where to get water from but lacking expertise to pump enough water from the Shire River which has plenty of water. There is therefore need to plant the right trees that will conserve water, otherwise the project will not be sustainable. It is now unfortunate that the trees are not being planted as agreed,” Chilenga said.

Meanwhile, BWB through its acting Chief Executive Officer, Henry Bakuwa, has told the committee that the board has set aside K168 million of compensation of people who will be affected by the project in Mulanje, Thyolo and Chiradzulu districts.

However, efforts to speak to Bakuwa on why the board is reluctant to plant the trees proved futile.

The board’s publicist Priscilla Mateyu also said she could not comment as she was outside the country.

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