Take a walk in rural Malawi and you will definitely come across one or more boreholes either broken down or completely abandoned. Worse still, users do not exactly know what to do next. Furthermore, numerous village meetings I have attended across rural Malawi have not ended without a usual request by local traditional leaders for more boreholes even in communities with adequate boreholes as stipulated by government policies.
With the upcoming elections in 2019, we are yet to see politicians sinking more boreholes in villages as a strategy to get more votes without necessarily thinking about sustainability of the water infrastructure. But the question one could ask is: Should we continue sinking more boreholes while the number of non-functional boreholes is rising?
Keeping water systems in rural areas functioning ‘forever’, without communities wanting material support from any organisation on the same water infrastructure has proved elusive yet it is one of the uppermost sustainability accomplishment most organisations in the water sector would desire to attain.
While most organisations, including the government have heavily invested in designing sustainable models, which empower communities to own these rural water supply systems, other implementing organisations have always wanted to be seen working and thereby baby-sitting communities by always being there to rehabilitate any small borehole faults or even offering to drill new boreholes without regard to government policies and within walkable distances from the abandoned boreholes.
This seemingly softness on the part of the so-called charity organisations or generous individuals has not only destroyed the very communities where capacity building has been conducted to sustain boreholes, but has also strained the little resources they have, which could have been used wisely to support other communities in dire need of safe and adequate water.
For decades, experts in the water sector have argued and some have come up with diverse theories on why rural water supply infrastructure, especially boreholes fail quickly or become non-functional before their prescribed life span, leading to stretched periods of downtime or even abandonment. Some experts have further pointed out that, the ability by a community to effectively conduct, on its own, planned borehole maintenance and be able to use funds collected from calculated water-users’ tariffs to buy and replace worn-out borehole parts provides a glimpse of a sustained water system. But this does not fully articulate what will motivate a community to keep a borehole functioning at all times.
One simple intervention practised by rural communities in Chikwawa seems to be providing a solution to this age-long riddle of community borehole ownership and sustainability. While technical considerations in borehole drilling and installation are vital, making a borehole as an economic epicenter in the community has proved to stimulate community members to jealously secure their boreholes and ensure that they are fully functional at all times.
Introduction of Borehole banks in rural communities of Chikwawa is a huge milestone towards sustainability of rural water supply infrastructure. Using simple yet effective business models such as Borehole banks, allow water users to borrow part of borehole maintenance fund, use it for their own various economic activities and later payback at an agreed percentage interest.
This does not only multiply funds for borehole operation and maintenance, but also enhances economic livelihoods of water users in the community. It eliminates challenges encountered by poor rural women of travelling long distances for a small loan at commercial banks in towns coupled with all the tedious paperwork process, interviews and exorbitant conditions associated with a commercial bank loan.
They say ‘water is life’ and deep in the rural communities of Chikwawa, this idiom is not only synonymous with healthy living, but also with economic benefits it possess. n