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Nsombi’s ebbing swamps shrink Malawi-Mozambique boundary

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Malita Netiweki knows no other place than Nsombi, an island on Lake Chilwa, Zomba district. She uttered her first word and took her first step on the island. She still lives there and she is 39 years old.

According to Netiweki, her four-decade stay at the island, which borders Mozambique, h as been characterised by one life-threatening problem: lack of potable water.

Murky swamps, Netiweki says, are the only source of water on the island, a situation she says puts their lives at risk of waterborne diseases.

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But for the fortunate ones that have money, the story is different as they buy drinking water from Mozambique.

“There was a time when we had a borehole, but it broke down. Due to this problem, some people are cashing in by selling water from Mozambique,” she says.

However, Netiweki laments, the majority of the people on the island cannot afford to import water from Mozambique. They still have to rely on the muddy swamps to have drinking water.

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“The problem is very serious,” Netiweki says her face full of creases of despair, “we can even lose our children. Children can come from school thirsty and find no water at home. This happens when you do not have money to buy water from Mozambique, therefore the only option is to rely on swamps.”

“Even in the piercing cold or sweltering hot weather,” Netiweki says, “We still go to the swamps.”

“We also have pupils that wake up at the break of dawn to walk long distances in search of water before they go to school,” she says.

Another Nsombi Island inhabitant ChrissyAsani has the same worries as Netiweki on the problem of water.

“We are living on this island but we request government officials not to forget us when implementing various projects.

“We are told water is life, but the situation is different here. We thank the Mozambican government that we are allowed to access water though at a fee. The only challenge is that most of the people are poor therefore cannot afford to access the commodity,” she explains.

Taking his turn, Group Village Headman Chisoni says it is unfortunate that decades after gaining independence, some people rely on unprotected sources of water.

“Our leaders should rescue us from this situation,” he says.

But the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development says about 86 percent of the total population has access to potable water

The spokesperson for the department of water and irrigation Mercy Msowoya says the statistics are according to 2014 Malawi MDG End line Survey.

Msowoya says apart from national projects, Malawi is party to the revised SADC Protocol on Shared Water Courses as well as a member of the Zambezi Basin Commission (ZAMCOM) although it has not yet ratified to the ZAMCOM agreement.

ZAMCOM promotes equitable and reasonable utilization of the water resources of the Zambezi Watercourse including the efficient management and sustainable development.

Msowoya says Malawi benefits from a number of projects in the SADC region especially on Water Resources Development and Management.

“Some of such projects include the SADC Hydrological Cycle Observing System(SADC HYCOs) and the Zambezi Water Resources Information System projects (ZAMWIS),” she says.

The SADC HYCOS project aims at facilitating the provision of water resources data and information in the form needed for decision making on all aspects of integrated water resources development and management so as to contribute to regional socio-economic development.

The project is part of a wider WHYCOS programme and targeted seven major areas of intervention such as Information Acquisition, Management and Dissemination.

“So far 2 Phases of the project have already been implemented. Meanwhile the project is aiming at rehabilitating Hydrological stations in the member countries as well as providing field, office and HYDSTRA ( a database system which manipulates Hycos Data) training,” Msowoya explains.

She says four of Malawi’s Hycos Stations have already benefited from this project through rehabilitation and Installation of new equipment such as automatic recorders.

“These stations are Mwandenga on Songwe River, Chilumba and Nkhatabay on Lake Malawi and Liwonde on Shire River. What remains now is to train the officers of the utilisation of the equipment and installation of a reliable network.

“Once the rehabilitations have been finalised data will be transmitted and shared among member states directly unlike in the current scenario where data is transmitted to Pretoria base Station,” she says.

Msowoya also says Malawi is also a party to Zambezi Water Resources Information System project (ZAMWIS) which is being implemented in the 8 Riparian states under the Zambezi Water Commission (ZAMCOM) in the SADC region on a pilot basis.

The eight riparian states benefiting from this project are the Republic of Angola, the Republic of Botswana, the Republic of Malawi, the Republic of Mozambique, the Republic of Namibia, the United Republic of Tanzania, the Republic of Zambia and the Republic of Zimbabwe.

The project aims at promoting information and data sharing among the member states.

“Meanwhile data sharing tools are being developed to be used by the member states,” she says.

But according to Water Aid website, although official figures show Malawi to have about 85 percent water supply coverage, the number of people with reliable access is far lower.

“Many hand pumps are broken, leaving no choice but to go back to unsafe water sources,” states the website.

In Malawi, Water Aid is working with local partners to map the water points in each district and note their condition.

To ensure communities get the most benefit from safe water, Water Aid support people to improve hygiene practices and build toilets.

On its website, SADC says it views water management as a pivotal instrument for promoting peace in the Southern African region through transboundary and regional cooperation and harmonisation of legislation, policies and strategies.

The SADC Water Division, part of the Infrastructure and Services Directorate, addresses water resources management issues through the Revised Protocol on Shared Watercourses (2000), the Regional Water Strategy (2006) and a series of Regional Strategic Action Plans for the Water Sector – currently on version 3.

SADC is active in supporting Member States to address the challenges of water resources management, particularly those of a transboundary nature.

The Revised Protocol on Shared Watercourses (2000) emphasises the equitable use of water resources, using the guiding principles of Integrated Water Resources Management; also taking into account geographic and climatic factors, as well as the socio-economic demands of SADC Member States.

The SADC Water Division promotes the sustainable use of water resources through coordinated management, protection and equitable use.

Over 70 per cent of the SADC region’s fresh water resources are shared between two or more Member States.

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