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Towards clean water for all

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SAFER—Water from a LifePump

By Josephine Chinele, contributor:

For decades, sanitation-related diseases and mortalities have been common in Humba and surrounding villages, Traditional Authority Kanduku, Mwanza.

In 2009, a break from using unprotected sources only lasted a few days after a borehole a non-governmental organisation (NGO) drilled ran dry not long after being commissioned.

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A stream snaking across Humba Village has been the main source of water for people there.

During the dry season, members of the community used to dig out wells in the watercourse so that water could accumulate before they started drawing it.

“The water is often contaminated, but we had no choice. The next point with potable water was far from our village,” says Rebecca Julaye, 55.

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Domestic and wild animals also quench their thirst on the water from the wells.

Another member of the area, Masalima Jezimani, says, sometimes people could fail to draw the water after finding it soiled with animal waste.

Now, a modern hand pump called LifePump, installed by United States-based non-profit organisation Design Outreach, is reversing water woes in Humba Village.

“At first, we thought the pump would not last long. Three months on, it is still giving us potable water,” Julaye says enthusiastically.

Village Head Humba is also thrilled that his people finally have a functional borehole from where they draw clean water.

He recalls that waterborne diseases were common in the area and resulted in at least five deaths of adults every year.

The chemicals for treating water which health officials distribute to households in the village, are often not enough and the act itself is not consistent, according to the chief.

“Women in this area like engaging in various socioeconomic activities but were often being hindered by the water problem. They could spend more time fetching water or nursing sick family members,” Humba says.

Mechanic responsible for Humba and surrounding villages, George Jonamu, says the borehole that was initially sunk in the area was not deep enough.

“Such boreholes usually go dry, especially during the dry season, when the water table changes. The LifePump is different and more sophisticated,” Jonamu states.

He adds that even in an event of a prolonged dry spell, the LifePump, which was approved by the Malawi Government after five years of piloting, will still continue giving out water.

Jonamu was trained by the district water development office to be maintaining boreholes in communities whenever they break down.

He is equipped with knowledge on borehole repair and where to find spare parts within his locality. In return, the community members, led by the village head, pay for his services.

Mwanza District Water Development Officer, Laston Chagunda, says the border district constantly experiences water shortages because the water table there is low.

“It is even difficult for piped water to reach many areas because the terrain can’t easily support gravity-fed water supply. Some areas use Thambani Mountain gravity for water supply, but it can’t reach the whole district,” Chagunda explains.

He further discloses that Mwanza has over 600 boreholes drilled by NGOs and the government, with most of them frequently breaking down despite that they are still in use.

“They are functional because community members were trained in how to maintain them. They also access spare parts locally. I feel the LifePump is a better alternative because it rarely breaks down,” he says.

According to Design Outreach Malawi Relationship Manager Titus Nnensa, the charity seeks to alleviate poverty by designing, manufacturing and delivering scalable and sustainable appropriate technology.

He touts the LifePump— which has been in operation since 2013 in countries such as Malawi, Haiti, Zambia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Mali, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Zimbabwe and Guatemala— as reliable.

“The LifePump is able to access water up to 150 metres deep. This reduces the occurrence of dry boreholes and provides a solution to climate change concerns and ensures rural communities access water,” Nnensa says.

He further explains that while drillers of regular boreholes often abandon and declare a dry hole when they fail to find water after 60 metres, for the LifePump, they can go to 100 metres and beyond.

Nnensa discloses that the pump has a lifespan of up to 30 years with prevention maintenance only supposed to be conducted after five years.

“Performance of the LifePump is also monitored remotely through a LifePump link installed on the pump. We monitor the performance of each pump in terms of number of hours it has worked and number of litres drawn while we are in office. This enables us to notice if there are any issues with the pump,” he says.

Design Outreach seeks to install 3,000 LifePumps in Malawi by the end of this decade, to serve an estimated 1.5 million people.

The LifePump borehole in Humba Village is one of the 28 that have been installed in the country since 2013.

According to Water Aid Malawi, one in three people in Malawi does not have access to clean water.

But efforts by partners such as Design Outreach are billed to accelerate progress towards ensuring access to water and sanitation for all by 2030, as targeted in Sustainable Development Goal 6.

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