Living in Sande Village in Traditional Authority Maseya in Chikwawa, Eliza Kalombo’s nearest protected source of water is in Kwathe Village which is located about one kilometre away from her home.
Early this year, floods wreaked havoc in Chikwawa damaging many water sources in the district including the only borehole which Kalombo and people in Sande Village were relying upon.
She admits that since then, people in the village have been depending on unprotected shallow wells.
“Our family now depends on the unprotected well which is at Mr Samson Nambo’s home over 300 metres away from my house. That’s out current source of water for cooking and for drinking.
“The biggest fear is that our failure to access safe water is exposing us to the dangers of water borne diseases like diarrhoea, cholera and dysentery,” says Kalombo.
According to a non-profit making international organisation, Water For People, Chikwawa, which was one of the hardest hit by the floods, needs about 650 new boreholes.
That should complement 200 other boreholes which need to be rehabilitated.
The 850 boreholes – if all of them were to be functional –would ensure that all people in the district have access to clean and potable water.
The most recent Joint Monitoring Program Report by Unicef and World Health Organisation says 95 percent of people in urban areas and 83 percent in rural areas in Malawi have access to safe water.
But Water For People argues that these statistics are considerably inflated. According to the organisation, Malawi’s current understanding of the water situation in low-income areas is that 38 percent of people have access to water that meets government standards, and in the rural district of Chikwawa only 42 percent of its people have access to safe d r inking water.
The recent Status Report on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Primary Schools across the district says children in 19 percent of schools drink water from unprotected sources such as hand-dug wells without pumps and streams, which exposes them to the dangers of waterborne diseases.
While access to potable water continues to be a big problem across the country, people in the area o f Traditional Authority Maseya have a different story to tell after a local NGO, A Self Help Assistance Program (ASAP) s tar ted promoting a low cost water technology project called rope pump.
In this technology, a loose hanging rope is lowered into a well and drawn up through a long pipe with the bottom immersed in water.
On the rope, round disks or knots matching the diametre of the pipe are attached to pull the water to the surface.
Apart from using manual drilling, all the resources used for making the pumps are low cost and locally available.
ASAP Director, Twisy Mwaighogha, says rope pumps are modern and low-cost, meant for both shallow and deep wells for small communal systems, self-supply, domestic use, cattle watering and irrigation.
“The rope pump, of course, has all its spare parts available in several markets. Some of them such as broken bicycles and used rubber tires, for example, are even found abandoned on rubbish heaps. Finding them can be a good business for recyclers,” Mwaighogha adds.
Elias Mzumara, a consultant hired by ASAP to train people on planting rope pumps in T/A Maseya’s area, says that the pumps have a number of benefits apart from providing safe water.
“The benefits are double-edged because the number of people depending on unprotected water sources will be reduced but at the same time some local people can also have the chance to venture into business by manufacturing the pumps.
“This is why ASAP is training local entrepreneurs who learn more on manufacturing rope pumps and those who could be readily available to repair the equipment when needing maintenance,” Mzumara says.
Mwaighogha says since May this year, the organisation has managed to plant 10 rope pumps in different parts of T/A Maseya.
He explains that rope pumps on average cost K60, 000 and they pump from 1 to 90 metres depth.
But he says besides the rope pump technology, government also needs to renovate the existing damaged boreholes and protect the other wells to accelerate access to safe water in the district.
Chairperson of the Sande Village Development Committee, Chikuse Meka, commends ASAP for introducing rope pump technology in the village.
Meka says access to safe water in many parts of T/A Maseya is a big challenge particularly during rainy season, hence the need to promote increased use of the rope pumps.
“We are very happy that the youth are pioneering the introduction of the pumps in our area and with the participation of women there is a sense of ownership of the project by the people who are contributing free labour and other resources,” Meka says.
He argues that while there could be some powerful vested interests who would resist the introduction and growth of the use of rope pumps, their advantages especially in providing safe water, supporting increased community self-reliance and empowerment, far outweigh their drawbacks.
And as Kalombo and her fellow citizens in Sande village continue to have problems in accessing safe water, the further roll out of the rope pump could save them from further troubles.
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