By Grace Kapatuka:
It is 4 am in Ntcheu; time to wake up and prepare for those going to work.
Winnie Phiri, fondly called Nambewe by her mistress, wakes up at that time to heat water for her boss’ bath.
She turns on the tap but water does not come out. She then opens one of the buckets in the kitchen only to find it half full. The water is not enough.
Nambewe is only two-day-old as a maid in this house at Ntcheu Boma.
“Aunt!” she calls her mistress who is still in bed.
She informs the mistress that the taps are dry and that she is going out to a nearby borehole to draw water.
Some minutes later, Nambewe returns with an empty pail because she has been denied access to water for not being a paid-up member of the borehole community.
Every household must pay K1,500 at the beginning of every year to draw water from the borehole.
Nambewe is now helpless. She waits for her boss to wake up so that they can discuss where to source water.
Such is the situation among many households at Ntcheu Boma where taps have gone dry for months.
The water problem emerged soon after the rainy season in May last year forcing some residents to opt for unprotected wells.
Meanwhile, most residents around the boma are now relying on rain water, courtesy of onset of the rainy season.
There are some boreholes around but one has to be a paid-up member before drawing water from any of them.
Membership fees range from K1,500 to K2,000 and has to be paid at the beginning of each year.
At New Lines location, for instance, rules stipulate that a household has to pay K1,500 at the binning of every year and K500 every two months.
“The money collected from every household that draws water from this borehole is meant for its maintenance. It was not easy for people to contribute money whenever the borehole got broken down.
“So we resolved to be paying the money at the beginning of every year and deny access to those that fail to contribute,” says Annie Chikopa, a paid-up member and resident of New Lines.
Another resident at the Ntcheu Town Hellen Nyirenda says her house has been without running water for over 10 months now.
“We are helpless and I really don’t understand why the situation is this bad, especially this time around when we have started receiving rains.
“It has been raining for the past two weeks but still we can’t get piped water into our houses,” she says.
Nyirenda says surprisingly she recently received a water bill of over K16, 000 despite the taps remaining dry for months.
“This is an insult to say the truth. Where is the bill coming from when I have gone 10 months without water in my house?” she says.
Another resident Phalless Chizule concurs with Nyirenda and says the situation is unbearable.
“I fail to understand why this problem is taking so long to get solved. Is it due to low water table or what?
“We started crying for water some months ago but till now nothing has changed,” she says.
The residents say Central Region Water Board (CRWB), a body entrusted to supply water at Ntcheu Boma and surrounding areas, is “taking them for granted.”
Recently, even members of the district executive
committee (DEC) took turns in a meeting to accuse the board of failing to timely solve the problem.
“We have been having this problem of water shortage for so many years and we expected that, by now, a solution should have been found.
“Why is it that we have the same problem every year but we do not have a lasting solution to it?” said Social Welfare Officer Mike Makalande.
The water challenge has also affected operations at public institutions such as district hospital, prison and council offices among others.
“Think of a hospital operating without running water; we need water at the labour ward and other wards for washing our linen and at the toilets.
“The water problems have resulted in blockage of toilets because the hard stools need enough water to dissolve.
“We experience so many blockages because the toilets are used by many people but do not have [enough] water to support the system,” said District Health Officer Dr Mike Chisema.
Chisema said the situation at times forces the hospital to take its dirty linen to Neno and Balaka district hospitals for washing, a distance of about 150 and 43 kilometres, respectively.
“It isn’t healthy at all to operate without water for months.
“The borehole that we have near the hospital is also not working to our expectation since it produces less water. The situation is posing a greater risk of diseases,” he said.
The hospital serves between 700 and 1,000 patients a day and currently relies on the groundwater the borehole produces but is not enough for the institution.
Ntcheu Prison faces a similar situation as inmates have to go out of the prison to fetch water from boreholes.
The prison’s spokesperson Jordan Mang’anda says the inmates have to alternate time with members of the community, which poses a security risk.
“Inmates draw water from 7am to 9 am and from 12pm to 2pm. The rest of the time is allocated to the community around,” Mang’anda says.
At the district council offices, staff use pit latrines since flush toilets are no longer in use due to lack of water.
Ntcheu District Commissioner Smart Gwedemula is also concerned that the situation is not improving at all despite calls to CRWB to improve its service delivery.
In August last year, Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Joseph Mwanamvekha asked CRWB and other water boards to learn from Northern Region Water Board (NRWB).
He said unlike others, NRWB was doing well in terms of projects and coverage.
“NRWB has many projects; probably that is why even their coverage is bigger.
“I’m pleased that NRWB is doing extremely well compared to other water boards. I can say that without fear of contradicting myself,” Mwanamvekha said.
He added that the other water boards were lacking in some projects.
“You talk about profitability; some of them are in losses as we speak now.
“That is why we have suggested that, perhaps, NRWB should teach other water boards how to deal with their problems,” the minister said.
“Through Wasama [Water Services Association of Malawi], they should meet and discuss the issues. Our goal is SDG [Sustainable development Goal] number six which advocates water for all,” he added.
CRWB Public Relations Manager Zephelino Mitumba attributes the water problem to blockage of water source at Chipusile perpetrated by communities who use it for irrigation farming.
He adds that environmental degradation around the source and vandalism of the main pipe line are among the causes of the water shortage.
Mitumba, however, says the board has drilled two high-yield boreholes in the district to supplement the Chipusile water source as a way of solving the water problem.
He adds that, courtesy of the current rain season, the board has considerable volume of water coming from Mpamadzi and Maliko streams but some residents still experience shortage because of turbidity.
“The water is very turbid and we take a long time to let it settle and treat before distribution. The situation will improve in the course of the season,” Mitumba says. — Mana