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When water is death in Mzimba

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WAITING FOR TURN—Tereza on the queue to fetch water

If you told people of Kanyeramini, Nkhata Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Mzikubola, in Mzimba District that water is life, they would certainly disagree because, for years, they have struggled to access water, let alone clean water, leading to the proliferation of waterborne diseases. In fact, SAMUEL KALIMIRA, has, in this Friday Shaker, discovered that water is the source of death to members of this particular community.

Tereza Nyasulu, 37, remembers vividly the time a dog bit her left leg while on her way from Kawiye stream to fetch water recently.

Nyasulu is still afraid after that ordeal but does not have an alternative—she still has to take that dog-infested path to the stream.

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And when she arrives at the stream, she is greeted by queues of people, especially women, and livestock waiting for a turn—to fetch the colourless liquid gold.

“If you came early in the morning, you could have seen how we queue up for water. We quarrel and sometimes fight while jostling for clean water before livestock distorts it. If you come at 5:00am, you are assured that you will go back home at 7:00am,” Nyasulu said.

It is obvious that the water is not potable, putting lives of the entire community at risk of dying of waterborne diseases.

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This is the case, as Nyasulu put it, because water purifiers are scarce in the village.

“We frequently suffer from stomachache and our children are often diagnosed with diarrhoea at Hoho Health Centre,” Nyasulu said.

Chris Nkhata, from the same village, said, during winter, women scramble for water they fetch five kilometres away at the only borehole at Kasambankholi Local Education Authority (LEA) Primary School.

“We go there at around 8:00am to ensure that our children go to school on time. But because we meet with other women from many villages, we scramble to fetch the water,” Nkhata said.

To fetch the water, they pay K500 per household per year. Churches fork out K1,000 per event and those working for construction companies part ways with K1,500.

Those that do not pay are denied access to the water, as the money is used for borehole maintenance.

Group Village Head Kanyerampini said most of the women fail to contribute to the socio-development of the area.

SORRY SIGHT—Water hole which serves members of the
community

The chief said he reported the matter to the area’s Member of Parliament Emmanuel Jere who told them that, despite that the government had allocated four boreholes to his constituency, Kanyerampini Village was unlikely to benefit from the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“The MP said his constituency is very big and needs more boreholes. Therefore, we are not going to benefit from the four boreholes allocated to the constituency,” the chief said.

He said 39 villages drink unsafe water from shallow wells and the only borehole at the school.

The traditional leader said the development has led to the village registering more cases of waterborne diseases at Hoho health facility.

Jere agreed with the members of the community on the water challenges but said the government allocates four boreholes per year to his constituency, a development, he said, that would minimise the problem after five years.

However, Jere said plans were underway for Kamwankhuku Water Source, which is close to the area, to supply piped water to the affected villages.

“We hope that Kamwankhuku Water Source, in the neighbouring constituency of Mzimba Luwerezi, would help supply water to many areas, thereby arresting the water challenges in my constituency. I have also received resources from Constituency Development Fund and, with councillors, we have agreed to identify broken boreholes, including that at Hoho Health Centre, for repairs,” Jere said.

But Mzimba District Health Officer, Lumbani Munthali, downplayed fears of waterborne disease outbreak in the area.

“We register average cases of waterborne diseases at Hoho Health Centre and the figures are not alarming. This is so because of our intervention through Chlorine which we distribute to the communities. Otherwise, we still need potable water in the area,” Munthali said.

The facility’s Health Advisory Committee Chairperson, Damiano Nhlane, said the problem was not only affecting villagers but also the health centre.

Mhlane said patients scramble for water at Hoho Primary School borehole which, apart from serving thousands of learners, caters for community members.

The health centre has no running water and this affects levels of hygiene at the facility.

“Patients and pregnant women from the maternity ward queue up with women from surrounding villages at the only borehole at the school. The facility’s borehole broke down 10 years ago and politicians have promised us many times that they will repair it, to no avail,” Nhlane said.

He said guardians at the maternity wing fetch water which they put in a tank for the only midwife at the facility to use when helping women deliver.

Teachers at Hoho and Kasambankholi primary schools say water scarcity in Mzimba South East Constituency villages also affects learners’ classroom attendance.

Kasambankholi LEA School Deputy Head teacher, Happy Gondwe, said when women scramble for water at the borehole, they make so much noise that it distracts learners in class.

“Sometimes, the women do not give the learners an opportunity to drink water and wash hands. The learners keep on waiting and this makes them miss classroom lessons,” Gondwe said.

DYSFUNCTIONAL—Broken borehole at Hoho Health
Centre

He added that some learners do not wash hands after visiting the toilet; hence, putting them at risk of contracting waterborne diseases.

Mzimba District Commissioner, Thomas Chirwa, asked for more time before he could comment on the matter.

However, Mzimba District Water Officer, Kings Mndhluli, told community members during an interface that the council was doing its best to arrest water challenges in the district.

“The complaint has been taken note of and, if we were to embark on any project right now, we would start addressing the issues, but you know that Mzimba is vast. When we are providing services, we don’t just look at one area; we consider other areas,” Mndhluli said.

According to WaterAid, the government has made the provision of clean water a priority but one in three people do not access clean water.

Wateraid.org says 5.6 million people lack access to potable water in Malawi. This leads to 3,100 children dying every year after taking dirty water and using poor toilets in the country.

Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Ministry spokesperson, Priscilla Mateyo, said the government, development partners and had put in place measures to ensure that all people access clean water.

Mateyu said the government would, through Sustainable Rural Water and Sanitation for Improved Health and Livelihood Project targeting Rumphi, Nkhotakota, Ntcheu, Mangochi and Phalombe districts, address the challenge of poor access to clean water in rural areas.

“We also have a Groundwater Extraction Project, which has a component of using reticulated water supply systems that would see ground water, as a water source. It is being implemented in some areas in Dowa, Ntcheu and Chiradzulu [districts]. [The] government, through the ministry with support from ADB, in 2010 came up with a Rural Water Investment Plan and Strategy. The investment plan outlines the investment that is required to ensure that communities living in rural areas have access to safe water,” Mateyu said.

Mzuzu University Technical Programme Officer at the Centre of Excellence in Water and Sanitation, Joshua Mchenga, said a joint report by the World Health Organisation and United Nations Children’s Fund released in 2017, says most countries, including Malawi, have made progress on provision of clean water

However, Mchenga said the improvement might only be in urban areas where people access clean water.

Mchenga, however, said many people who are in rural areas depend on boreholes and most of them broke down.

“There are a lot of resources which are going to [the] sanitation [sector] but then the water sector is now sidelined. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) focus on ensuring that every household is connected to clean potable water but this is not working in rural areas.

“Some boreholes broke down and communities were not equipped to conduct maintenance works; some are down because spare parts can only be bought outside the country. This is, according to the government, recommended equipment and communities in rural area cannot afford it,” Mchenga said.

He, however, said people were supposed to access potable water to prevent health risks.

It is an open secret, therefore, that a single water challenge is affecting health, education and social development sectors in Mzimba.

Despite this being the case, Malawi is a signatory to United Nations (UN) treaties and conventions on clean and potable water.

For example, on July 28 2010, through Resolution 64/292, the UN General Assembly explicitly recognised the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation were essential to the realisation of all human rights.

Similarly, SDG XI requires Malawi to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030. But is Malawi moving in the right direction to achieving this? Certainly not for the people of one area in Mzimba.

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