Although efforts are underway to provide adequate water supply in Lilongwe city, the cost of providing such water is ever escalating. This is largely due to human degradation coupled with increased pollution of water that results from developmental activities in areas within the radius of Lilongwe River; upstream of the intake and the entire catchment area. The boom of economic activity with no proper arrangements for sanitation as well as waste management is another cause of worry. This is exacerbated by population growth and urban migration. CHARLES MKOKA and MECLINA CHIRWA explore how this is affecting water quality and supply to residents in the capital.
Lilongwe city had a blessing in disguise on January, 01, 2020 while residents were still in New Year mood. Incessant rains they so much needed for agriculture production were welcomed, but too much of it resulted in more destruction in surrounding peri-urban areas.
No sooner had the rains fallen than residents were greeted with water supply interruption notice. The rains, apart from causing damage to resident’s dwelling units, also affected water production facilities and treatment works of the utility service provider Lilongwe Water Board (LWB).
This was due to heavy flooding, and a sudden increase of silt and debris in Lilongwe River – the main water source of the city, said a statement issued by the board.
“The silt and debris are clogging our production plant and machines and the only necessary measure for the board right now, is to reduce production capacity to avoid compromising water quality and standards during the purification process. To mitigate the situation, the board will be dispersing water bowsers to critically affected areas,” the board explained to its clients.
A source at the board said this communication was made for a specific planned maintenance, in the spirit of respecting stakeholders and informing them to use water sparingly and keep adequate stock for use during the repair works period.
Behind water interruptions in Lilongwe city
Dzalanyama Forest Reserve (DFR) is one of the most threatened natural ecological systems due to tobacco curing, brick burning, firewood and charcoal selling that has intensified in the rural communities surrounding it.
The reserve acts as a catchment area for water conservation. It is well known for being the source of three important rivers; Katete, Diamphwe and Lilongwe. Lilongwe city relies on these rivers for its water supply and the city is at risk of having water problems in future if the reserve is not saved from degradation.
At the moment, forest degradation pressures are exceeding the regenerative capacity of the reserve (Murayama & Munthali, 2012). People in surrounding communities are felling trees for timber, firewood, poles and charcoal.
A March 2017 study titled Drivers of Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Dzalanyama Forest Reserve in Malawi, published in the Journal of Science and Research by Nameka Katumbi et al, researchers based at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luarnar) suggest that livelihood activities could account for most of the forest loss in Malawi. Agricultural expansion has a visibly negative impact on forest cover; however, the process of agricultural expansion can only be understood in the context of population growth.
Moreover, says the study, the highly unequal distribution of Malawi’s land accelerated the displacement of farmers into marginal areas, and the loss of traditional land tenure rules left communal forests vulnerable to encroachment and exploitation. With so few opportunities to earn cash incomes, rural Malawians have understandably turned to whatever options are available, even at the expense of the country’s environmental health.
Link between forest cover and water conservation
LWB is a statutory corporation established under the Water Works Act of 1995 with the sole purpose of supplying potable water to Lilongwe city residents and peri – urban areas. The current source of raw water is Lilongwe River which originates from DFR.
The board notes that rapid population growth and urbanisation has resulted in water demand not being met. Population increase due to normal growth influx, urbanisation and city boundary extension has necessitated a need for additional water to be supplied to the city’s growing residents.
Speaking during a tree planting exercise at Katete plantation earlier this year, LWB Board Chairperson, Bishop Charles Tsukuluza PhD, advised that their mandate is to provide water to residents and this water comes from Lilongwe River which originates from DFR.
“This forest is important to us because when it has cover, we are assured of water but in the absence of cover it results into shortage of water. This leaves us in an awkward position as to how we can continue to provide water to residents of Lilongwe,” Tsukuluza clarified after planting a tree on reserve watershed area.
As a board, he added we are also involved in planting tree seedlings around Kamuzu dam. We are encouraging communities to plant trees and make sure they manage them properly and ensure they survive. You know water is life and if we reduce conservation of water through tree cutting. We are also reducing life as water is life. We have 48,000 seedlings donated by Project for Conservation and Sustainable Management of Dzalanyama with the technical assistance from Japan International Cooperation Agency in partnership with Forestry Department to be planted around the Kamuzu dam as part of securing the dams catchment areas.
Meanwhile, Tsukuluza highlighted, plans are underway for works to commence on rehabilitation of Kamuzu Dam which currently has a capacity of 4.5million cubic litres to be upgraded to the capacity of storing 18 million cubic litres of waters.