Njalo Island: a place where rights do not exist
Welcome to Njalo Island; a place where rights do not exist, were our welcoming remarks from Village Head Chalera as we disembarked from the two boats that ferried us on a three-hour journey across Lake Chilwa to the island.
With a population of 362 people, Njalo is a fisher’s village located 100 kilometres from Phalombe Boma on the mainland.
According to Village Head Chalera and his subjects, people of the island live in a world where rights, especially the right to development enshrined in the constitution of the Republic of Malawi, do not really exist.
“Here at Njalo, we only hear that Malawians have rights to basic education, good health, clean and safe drinking water and many other rights provided for in the Constitution. The absence of essential social services is the true definition of life for the citizens here,” Chalera says.
Currently, the island has a population of 101 children of school-going age. But access to basic education and early childhood education is a huge challenge because there is no school. Their nearest school is on the mainland and one has to pay K500 to cross the lake by boat to access the school.
At Njalo Island, when a child reaches school-going age, parents have to find relations based on the mainland where they can send the child to live and attain education. But this does not apply to everybody since others do not have such relatives.
While education challenges haunt people of the island big time, a random assessment revealed that lack of health services is the major worry for the island’s population that is often rocked by many diseases.
It is a place whose population consists of at least 312 males and around 50 females, a situation that increases cases of promiscuity because the whole male population has to share the few females that are available.
This, according to health counsellors on the island, contributes to the rapid spread of sexually transmitted infections (STI) at the place.
Unfortunately, the only health facility at the island is an under-five clinic shelter. That means adults have to secure at least K3,000 to get to the nearest health centre at Nambazo in Phalombe or Kachulu in Zomba District when they get sick.
This has always posed challenges to the people to the extent that some have lost their lives.
Melia Namalima, a businessperson at the island, lost her 12-year-old son in 2007 because she could not find money in good time to ferry him across the lake.
“It was a painful occasion and up until now, I still believe that if we had a health facility here, he could be saved,” Namalima says.
Moreover, the under-five health clinic exists on the island just in name. Most often, there are no drugs to serve even the little population of children. And earlier this month, the clinic was closed for two weeks due to the unavailability of drugs.
Phalombe District Health Officer (DHO) Ketwin Kondowe says they rotate health surveillance assistants (HSAs) assigned to serve on the island and that they get required drugs from the nearest health facility at Nambazo.
The rotational idea has its shortfalls too.
“Sometimes it happens that the HSA on duty at a particular period is negligent and the clinic stays without drugs for longer periods, sometimes even without operating. And it takes long for the District Health Office to know this is happening,” Kondowe says.
Clean and safe drinking water is another basic amenity that the inhabitants of Njalo Island seek despite being surrounded by water.
Currently, this absence of potable water forces them to consume untreated water from the lake.
Phalombe District Commissioner Harry Phiri describes the situation at Njalo as dangerous and need quick interventions.
Addressing residents of the island, Phiri said it is very unfortunate that the people of Njalo have not been regarded as Malawians for a long time although they participate in important national development activities such as paying taxes from their fishing proceeds and voting for political leaders.
“As government, we need to address some of the challenges that you’re facing, especially beginning with the provision of health services, education, clean and safe drinking water so that you stop drinking from unsafe sources such as the lake,” Phiri said.
The Constitution of the Republic of Malawi provides for the universal access to development in Section 30, part 2.
It says: “The State shall take all necessary measures for the realization of the right to development. Such measures shall include, amongst other things, equality of opportunity for all in their access to basic resources, education, health services, food, shelter, employment and infrastructure.”
However, as days go by, the people of Njalo Island continue to accept the fact that lacking is what defines their lives as they live isolated from development.
Quoting Village Head Chalera’s words, “Njalo Island is indeed an isolated place where rights do not exist.”
A vibrant writer who gives a great insight on hot topics and issues