21 September 2018
Breaking News

Karonga’s quest for potable water

Written by  Leonard Masauli
Some people vandalize pipes to enable their cattle to drink free water from the pipes - Pic by Leonard Masauli Some people vandalize pipes to enable their cattle to drink free water from the pipes - Pic by Leonard Masauli

Karonga, August 20, 2018: For many years, Karonga District has been a hub for waterborne diseases which have killed over seven people since 2016. 

Intermittent power supply, small diameter pipes, old leaky pipes and tanks are some of the challenges which have crippled Northern Region Water Board (NRWB) to equally distribute water to every household at the Boma.

When the taps run dry, communities from Malema II and other locations around the Boma find it hard to get safe drinking water for their respective households.

As a result, some people end up drinking direct from Lake Malawi thereby subjecting themselves to waterborne diseases such as cholera, especially during rainy season.

Last season alone, the district recorded 347 cholera cases with seven deaths out of 893 cases and 30 deaths countrywide.

Government and other organisations have been providing boreholes in communities to ensure people have safe drinking water but they are not enough to meet the growing demand.

However, the scramble for safe drinking water shall soon be history for people of Karonga. NRWB has embarked on expansion of supply system to meet the growing population at the township and surrounding areas.

Last July, Malawi Parliament approved NRWB’s proposal to implement a water project with US $26.7 million (about K19.4 billion) loan from Opec Fund for International Development (OFID) and Arab Bank for Economic Development (BADEA). 

OFID will pump in US$15 million (about K10.8 billion), BADEA US $10 million (about K7.3 billion) while Malawi Government, through NRWB, will contribute US $ 1.7 million (about K1.2 billion). 

NRWB’s director of finance in the district Francis Munthali says the project will run from August, 2018 to September, 2021.

He says the project will include replacement of small diameter pipes, upgrading of transmitting water pipes and construction of new water treatment plant of about 30, 000m3.

“We have been supplying water mainly in town and our equipment was installed sometime back. This time we will construct 24-km transmission mains; which are 9 km to Bwiba and 15 km to Balyenge.

“We want to upgrade that because the population is growing every day, causing the water demand to greatly increase and rendering the capacity of water supply infrastructure inadequate,” he says.

Munthali adds that the project will run beyond Karonga town to as far as Mlare, Pusi, Mpata, Kambwe and Katili.

Karonga District Council Chairperson Councilor Harry Mwanyembe says the project has come at the right time when the district needs several interventions on water and sanitation to curb waterborne diseases.

“Many people are suffering due to lack of sanitation. You know without potable water, sanitation cannot be there. So, I thank NRWB for this project,” he says.

Currently, NRWB has only 6000 customers out of 63000 people living at Karonga Township.

Karonga Central Constituency Member of Parliament Frank Mwenifumbo hails government for the project saying it will save people’s lives through provision of potable water for domestic use.

“The project is of national importance; among others, it will improve the people’s living standards as some will now have taps in their homes.

“Karonga has water-related problems whereby some people drink untreated water from the lake and I am certain that this development will turn around such a situation,” Mwenifumbo says.

He adds that the project will benefit the youths through creation of jobs for the entire period and even after completion.

However, there are calls for NRWB to extend the project to Ngala in Traditional Authority Mwilang’ombe because that is one of the areas where cholera cases occur every year.

Christobel Shaba, a resident at Karonga Township, says this is a good development as it is going to reduce time women spend hunting for water in localities.

“Women walk long distances to fetch water from boreholes, the lake and shallow wells thereby wasting time that could have been spent on viable economic activities,” Shaba says.

As the water project starts in Karonga, there are calls for awareness campaigns to discourage vandalism, which is on the rise in the district.

Some people deliberately vandalize pipes while others tamper with meters in their homes.

The behavior has, for over time, affected innocent people in homes and those running different businesses at the township.

NRWB continues to lose millions of kwachas through frequent replacement of vandalized equipment.

Northern zone manager Stanford Msongole says he receives reports of vandalized pipes in different parts of the zone every day.

“We have lost a lot of money to procure materials for repairing vandalized pipes. Karonga is the worst hit; every day we receive news of vandalised pipes and meters.

“People deliberately vandalize the pipes to accesses free water to mould bricks and for their cattle to drink,” Msongole says.

He acknowledges that due to economic hardships, some people are forced to tamper with the meters to get free water because they cannot afford to pay for it.

“In 2017, we received about 15 cases of vandalism while from January to March, 2018, we recorded more than 27 cases,” he says.

Msongole believes that those that tamper with meters connive with some of the board’s workers but when questioned the customers do not reveal.

NRWB’s spokesperson Edward Nyirenda says the board is concerned with vandalism of water infrastructure because it retards development of water supply services.

Obviously, the money used to procure materials to maintain and replace vandalised equipment would have been used to expedite the extension of water supply to other areas.

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