The infamous ‘Njobvu’ well in Chilobwe Township looks different today.
In fact, if you go down the earth road that traverses Chilobwe to Chesomba right at the foot of Soche Hill, along which the 37 year old well is located, you are likely to get astonished. And the astonishment will not be premised on the fact that the well has not dried up, or that its owner, Mexan Mkwezalamba, died 22 year ago.
Rather, you will be astonished because fewer people throng the iconic well to fetch water.
The well, located almost 4 kilometres from Chilobwe Trading Centre, was the most reliable source of water for most women seen carrying buckets, jerry cans and gallons some four months ago when everyone would fight for every drop of water.
“At the well women sometimes could wait till sunset but could still go back home without a drop of water. Some could sleep right here with their buckets hoping to get a chance at some point,” says Leonard Maere, a long-time Chilobwe resident.
Though water means life and is a right, he says, people of Naotcha, Maera and Chilobwe residential areas were left with no option but to fight for water from the well with murky water due to its unprotected state and continuous use especially after the rains.
“He [Mkwezalamba] at first was using it to water crops in his Dimba but due to the number of people from Mizati Village and Chilobwe who used to draw water from the well a fee was introduced later so that he could generate some cash out of it. But every day, numbers of people kept increasing with some coming from as far as Chilobwe Trading Centre to draw water,” explains Maere.
Jane Kambewa, another Chilobwe resident, attests to the fact that women used to bear the brunt of water scarcity in the area.
“Water supply has been a long-time challenge in Chilobwe. That is why we had to cover long distances just to draw water from the wells. During the day there would be many people and some would inevitably fight over the water,” she says.
Most residents in Naotcha and Chilobwe have over the years become used to stocking water in containers owing to the water woes.
The water problems in the area have not only been tormenting to residents of the area but also to utility service provider, Blantyre Water Board.
Due to erratic water supply, some residents of Nkanamwano -Naotcha in Chilobwe in 2013 went as far as demonstrating at BWB offices.
Led by Josephine Phiri, the Nkanamwano Naotcha Women protested against erratic water supply and delayed billing, arguing that it was no use having a water tap that one could not use.
Two years down the line, the situation has slightly improved, to the delight of Kambewa who continues to draw water from the Njobvu well.
“Due to improved water supply in Chilobwe, the number of people drawing water from this well has subsided. Today people draw water from other sources,” she says.
Due to the water works carried out by BWB at Walkers Ferry and Chileka Pumping Station, taps in the area are no longer dry.
The water treatment plant at the board’s intake point was completed in May and the installation of new pumps both at Chileka and Walkers Ferry sometime in September last year.
This has raised hopes that water supply in Blantyre City would no longer be a problem particularly in hilly areas such as Chilobwe.
Though the BWB project has been there for almost five years, another complementary project run by Chilobwe based Community Based Organisation, Genesis Manja Othandiza (Gemo), played a role by initiating dialogue between residents and the board on the water woes.
Using a rights-based approach, Gemo introduced a project aimed at empowering local communities to monitor BWB service delivery in Naotcha and Green Corner wards in Blantyre City South Constituency. The initiative is targeting 30, 000 residents in the area of Traditional Authority Kapeni.
Gemo executive director, Fatima Mauluka, observes that dialogue has played a role in resolving the water challenge.
“Families were breaking up and children were performing poorly in school due to water woes. With dialogue we managed to bring all the stakeholders to discuss the issues and understand attitude and this has borne fruit,” she says.
Counsellor for Naotcha Ward, Helmes Chimombo, remembers how hard it used to be before the project.
“People were drinking water from unprotected sources. Today, women can concentrate on matters of development and even families are no longer under threat,” says Chimombo.
BWB acting chief executive officer, Henry Bakuwa, says the board has embarked on water supply projects for areas hardest hit by water supply challenges.
“In Bangwe, for instance, we have provided a water tank at an elevated place which we hope will be completed by the third week of December. Intermittent water supply will be a thing of the past in the areas as there will be sufficient pressure from the tanks,” says Baluwa.
The board has also constructed three 5 000 cubic-metre-capacity water reservoir tanks in Kameza, Chigumula and Soche residential areas expected to service about 230, 000 people with the aim of easing water woes.