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Never-ending water crisis

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By Eric Msikiti, Matthews Kasanda & Yohane Symon

After numerous promises and purported reforms to improve the supply of water to their customers, four of the country’s five water boards are still struggling to supply the commodity.

Our enquiries in Blantyre and Lilongwe cities and several districts have confirmed the crisis.

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Blantyre Water Board (BWB), Southern Region Water Board (SRWB), Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) and Central Region Water Board (CRWB) have all not significantly dealt with dry tap situations in their catchment areas after years of investing in supply improvement.

Residents of some townships in Blantyre told The Sunday Times that for three months now, they have experienced one of the worst erratic water supply incidences in years.

Bertha Kachimanga, who lives in Ndirande Township, said in an interview that her house has had no running water for over two weeks and that even during the days some drops run down the taps, it happens for just a few hours.

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“We are, thus, forced to draw water from unprotected wells and subsequently get exposed to waterborne diseases. With the coming of the rainy season, the threat is huge,” Kachimanga lamented.

BWB Chief Executive Officer Bob Hanjahanja admitted that the water supplier has had to somehow ration the commodity “a little bit” in the dry season just before the rainy season.

Hanjahanja indicated the areas that are mostly affected are those that have elevated systems, but was quick to point out that BWB is currently redesigning the system so that people in those areas receive water all year round.

Our assessments, however, show most of the reasons for the board’s failure to consistently supply water to its customers are to do with unpreparedness for the city’s rising population and past disregard of maintenance of the institution’s water infrastructure.

Just yesterday, BWB issued a statement on low water levels at its Mpingwe Tank in which the board said a technical fault that occurred at Nguludi Pumping Station had caused water shortages around Makhetha, Maone, Nkolokoti and Mapanga, among other areas in the city.

However, residents in areas such as Makhetha and Nkolokoti had earlier told us the water crisis has been there for months, without any convincing explanation from BWB.

In other townships such as Chileka, Chigumula, Chilobwe, Ndirande and Chimwankhunda, residents are also going days, even weeks, without running water.

Esther Samson of Ndirande Township said the crisis is hitting women hard as they spend long hours waiting for their turns to draw water at communal points, most of which are not even protected.

Somewhere in Chileka, a road is often flooded with water gushing from ruptured pipes, which technicians at BWB reportedly take ages to fix.

In other parts of the Southern Region, which are served by SRWB, water challenges abound, even though in the board’s biggest district of Zomba, the problem is mild.

The board has 25 supply areas subdivided into five zones of Zomba, Liwonde, Mangochi, Mulanje and Ngabu, which covers Nsanje, Bangula, Nchalo and Chikwawa.

Balaka, Machinga and Mangochi are reportedly the worst hit by water challenges in the region.

Only less than five percent of Balaka’s population has access to piped water supplied by SRWB even though the access is erratic.

“During the dry season, we go for days without water. So even as we talk about the five percent, the number of people who access water at certain points is way much lower,” an official at Balaka District Council, who refused to be identified because they do not speak for the council, said.

Mangochi is another district which frequently faces water problems despite that it is situated along Lake Malawi. The problem is reportedly due to power problems, but Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) refuses to take the blame.

“We provide power to SRWB in Zomba and other districts, but water flow does not stop when power goes off. For Mangochi, I think SRWB should invest in its systems without blaming us.

“They are an independent entity and should shoulder the blame for failing to supply water to their customers,” an engineer at Escom said.

Some residents of Mangochi appear to agree with the Escom engineer.

“Even when power is there, we still have difficulties in accessing water supplied by SRWB,” said Maggie Sanudi from Mgundaphiri Village, Traditional Authority Kalonga in Mangochi.

By the time we went to press, SRWB spokesperson Rita Makwangwala had not responded to our questions on how the board intends to address the water challenges in its catchment area.

In the Central Region, our enquiries confirmed that in the lakeshore district of Salima, which is served by CRWB, and some parts of Lilongwe, two days barely pass without water supply interruptions.

“We wake up every morning to dry taps. We are now used to the situation. Water flows for just a few minutes or hours before it stops again,” said Ireen Mwalabu who resides in Lilongwe’s Area 36.

LWB has been issuing statements to the extent that the water challenges are due to maintenance works on its infrastructure.

Earlier this year, Minister of Forestry and Natural Resources, Nancy Tembo, told Parliament that water boards were bankrupt and failing to meet water demand.

Tembo further singled out CRWB as having not had any significant investments for about seven years.

But observers have been wondering why that was the case when the boards know they have a responsibility of supplying water to their customers.

Meanwhile, Consumer Association of Malawi Executive Director John Kapito continues to express concern over the never-ending water crises in the country.

“We ask [BWB] and indeed all other water boards in the country to live up to the promises that they made in their service agreements with consumers,” Kapito said.

In justifying the recent 52 percent average tariffs hike, the boards signed agreements with consumers.

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