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Water crisis puts WUA, contractor at loggerheads

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By Raphael Mweninguwe:

SUPPORT—A pipe lifted up with support from a tree trunk

The Water Users Association (WUA) members in Rumphi District are at loggerheads with SAWA Group, a company that was contracted by the Malawi Government to provide water to communities through the gravity fed piped system.

The WUA members are accusing the contractor for failing its duties by providing the communities with a system that is “of substandard” and that soon after the work was completed last year communities say they had no water supply because the pipes were “either washed away or burst due to water pressure.”

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“The SAWA construction company has failed the people of Rumphi,” claims Aaron Mughogho, a senior member of Hewe WUA.

Mughogho says most of the pumps have defects and water leaks and “this is the job which SAWA says has finished working on it last year.”

The Rumphi gravity fed piped water system is part of an African Development Bank (ADB) funded Sustainable Rural Water Infrastructure for Improved Health Livelihood (SRWSIHL) project. The project is managed by the Department of Water under the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development.

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The other areas in Rumphi where this gravity fed piped water system has been installed are Mlowe, Mhuju, Ntchenachena and Ng’onga but Hewe is where the problem is greater compared to other places.

“Most of the water pipes that were fitted in passed underneath the earth crossing the rivers instead of crossing them over the rivers. So when the rivers got flooded the pipes were just washed away rendering communities without water,” says Mughogho, adding, “Communities were now the ones raising the pipes and holding them up with trees so that they are not washed away by running water”.

He also claims that after the project got finished the remaining water pipes were taken away from the site by the contractor instead of leaving them behind “so that we could use them to fix problems when they arise.”

But a water engineer at Rumphi District council has parried the accusation saying it is not true what the communities are saying.

John Chingawale, however, admits that there are “just minor problems” which he says the contractor is currently working on to fix them.

“According to the contract the contractor has not yet abandoned the project nor finished it. We are in a defect reliability period where the contractor is still working on some of the defects that have been identified and this period ends November. So the contractor is within the contractual agreement as I speak to you,” says Chingawale.

He says communities will be asked to have a proper inspection of the project before it is handed over to them.

“We also expect the WUA members to make plans should something happens to the system they should be able to make repair on their own once the project is in their hands,” he says.

David Paligolo, SAWA Group Administrative manager, says it was not true that “we have done a substandard work.”

“We are a big company and we have done so many construction works and the Rumphi project is not the only one we have done. We can’t leave the project hanging,” he says.

He says the system that SAWA has installed in Hewe runs about 3km. He says the contractor will only hand over the project in December when everything is done according to the contractual agreement.

Mughogho has also confirmed that the contractor is working on the alleged defects and he says he hopes SAWA will do a better job before handing over to them.

In 2017 government put up an advert asking contractors to bid for the construction and rehabilitation works of the Hewe, Mlowe, Ntchenachena, Ng’onga and Mhuju gravity fed piped water project in Rumphi District. The contractor was expected to do civil works for water intake works and treatment works, transmission pipeline, tanks, distribution lines, service lines and tap water points. SAWA won the contract to do work.

A similar project was expected to be carried out in Nkhota Kota, Ntcheu, Mangochi and Phalombe districts, according to the Bank.

When all is said and done the communities in Rumphi will have the last laugh as the project, according to Paligolo will ease people’s movement to search water from far away distances.

According the ADB the project will increase coverage of sustainable and clean water to a total population of about 516,000 people and increase coverage of improved and inclusive sanitation to a total population of about 575,000 including pupils most of whom have not been attending classes due to water shortages.

Now that both sides of the isle-the WUA and the contractor-agree that the project is now on course following the later’s commitment to work on the defects as per contract agreement, the issue at hands seems to have been sorted out.

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