Mzimba communities’ walk towards safe water sources
That the water access situation remains dire in Malawi has, somewhat, become common knowledge.
More so because the truth is there for all to see— in national statistics.
According to the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef), the situation is more precarious in rural areas than it is in urban areas.
In its report, titled ‘Water, Sanitation and Hygiene: Safe Water for Every Child’, Unicef puts everything in context: “Although 67 percent of Malawi’s households have access to drinking water, distribution among districts, and between urban and rural areas, is uneven. Improved drinking water sources are more common in urban areas, at 87 percent, compared to 63 percent in rural areas.
“In rural areas, 37 percent of households spend 30 minutes or more to fetch drinking water in comparison to 13 percent in urban areas. Further analyses within districts also reveal [that] the distribution of water services in some areas is poor and uneven. Only 77 percent of water points nationwide are functional. The rest no longer work because of old age, catchment deterioration, neglect, lack of spare parts and inadequate community-based water management structures. Women and children shoulder the burden of poor access to water services as they often walk long distances to collect water for their families,” it says.
Unicef indicates that poor sanitation and hygiene are major contributors to the burden of disease and child survival, costing Malawi $57 million (about K57 billion) each year, or 1.1 percent of national gross domestic product, due to health costs and productivity losses.
However, progress seems to be made, with people in Mzimba District becoming the latest on the line of people who stand to benefit from increased access to safe water.
This is because the government has re-launched the K2 billion Msaka and Champhira South Water Gravity Rehabilitation Project in Mzimba District.
The project stalled in 2021 following disagreements between the government and the initial contractor, Kobe Construction Limited, over capacity issues.
The six-month project initially started in June 2019 and dragged for over three years until December 2022, when Attorney General Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda lifted an injunction which was obtained by the contractor, who was restraining the government from assigning another contractor for the project.
Secretary for Water and Sanitation Elias Chimlambe, who addressed stakeholders at the relaunch event on Wednesday, said the expectation is that there will be no delays this time around.
“We have put measures in place to make sure that the project does not stop again. First of all, we have a contract with the contractor and, in the contract, we have put quite a number of issues that ensure that the contract finishes in time and deals away with any of the challenges we experienced before. Our engineers are also on site to be supervising the work. We are also involving people of the area, who were part of the negotiations with the contractor,” he said.
Rehabilitation of Champhira Gravity Fed Piped Water Supply System and Msaka Solar Powered Water Supply System in Mzimba District is being done under the Malawi Resilience and Disaster Risk Management Project, using funds from the World Bank.
Firstday Ching’ani, Managing Director of Umodzi wa Matipa Construction, who has been assigned to do the work, said the Champhira gravity-fed project will involve rehabilitation of existing intake weir, construction of screening tank, rehabilitation of 12-kilometre-long pipelines, construction of two reinforced concrete storage tanks and construction of a Water Users Association (Wua) office.
On the Msaka project, Ching’ani said it will involve the drilling and installation of solar powered high-yielding boreholes, construction of one reinforced concrete storage tank, construction of new pipeline and the construction of a Wua office.
“To finish the works in time, it’s just a question of resources on our part. We feel we have everything it takes to complete all the works,” he said.
Traditional Authority Mabilabo said about half of the population in his area does not enjoy access to piped water.
“We, therefore, welcome the initiative,” he said.
The project will help 16, 000 people in Champhira South and 4, 000 in Msaka area in the district.