Malawians with no access to tap water are optimistic the K9.7 million water plant is a game-changer. JAMES CHAVULA writes.
Every day, Loveness Muyila walks about 20 minutes to draw drinking water. The mother of five in Mwenikaseghe Village, is one of nearly 100 000 Chitipa residents with no tap water in sight.
Her family relies on an overwhelmed borehole.
To get there, she crosses two pointers to a better future.
First, she passes the Chinese-made Karonga-Chitipa tarmac road which has given the border district a lifeline to economic growth.
Second, she hops past a fresh excavation where pipes from a water plant under construction at Kalenge River are being laid.
The plant, being bankrolled by the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa (Badea), guarantees the underserved population access to potable water.
Besides Mwenikaseghe, other beneficiaries include Lufita, Tondola and Chipwera villagers.
“At least, someone sees us as human beings, who not only require food and shelter, but also water and development,” Muyila says.
With a baby on the back and a bucket in hand, she was rushing to the borehole across the road, a walk that transitions into a protracted wait in lengthy queues as ground water sinks deeper.
“Families, especially women and children, would save time for profitable chores if we had adequate water points near our homes,” Nedson Siyeni, a father of 11, says.
This mirrors a wave optimism rising in the communities with almost all the construction works done since the multimillion dollar project commenced on July 1 2015.
At the source, workers, garbed in blue work suits and yellow helmets, have completed constructing a concrete weir to dam water at the intake. Upland, tanks, pumping stations, staff houses and the pipeline are taking shape.
“About 75 percent done!” Northern Region Water Board (NRWB) project manager Khumbo Mwafulirwa announced.
“We are moving quickly and we may finish quicker than planned. Certainly, the water plant will be complete on time and dedicate the remainder to final touches,”
The hustle and bustle testifies to the State-run company’s dream of ensuring potable water for all.
“We want to make sure the water system meets the existing and future demand of the population of Chitipa Town and its surroundings,” NRWB chief executive officer Titus Mtegha says.
Ahead of schedule
The futuristic system is designed for a demand of 5.3 million litres a day, serving about 47 000 people by 2030.
Presently, the board is grappling to produce 1.1 million litres per day for nearly 29 000 Malawians within its pipe network.
Chitipa district commissioner Grace Chirwa anticipates the water plant ending on-off water supply trends in the town with almost 2 500 connections.
Dry taps and scanty rural connectivity haunt the district, she says.
“We expect fewer dry-outs and more people getting safe water within reach,” Chirwa says.
Chitipa District Hospital is among zones affected by intermittent water supply and administrator McDonald Nkhonjera affirms the need for a swift shift.
Construction has spanned 14 months out of 18 and it appears on course for completion by December 31 this year, contractors forecast.
As clocks tick towards the deadline, Metaferia consulting engineer Getachew Worku explains: “We are ahead of our contract schedule and more than certain to handover of the water supply system this year,”
For surrounding populations and migrant workers, the increased activity along the road to Misuku offers numerous job opportunities.
“Jobs are scarce in rural areas, but the project has lessened massive unemployment in Chitipa and neighbouring districts,” councillor Daniel Mulungu says.
The contractors, Plem Construction-HE Jackson Joint Venture, have a workforce of about 300.
Commentators, including legislators and ministers, sound dazed.
“It’s stunning the water board is doing such a fantastic job to increase access to potable water in the region,” former Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Dr Allan Chiyembekeza said before he was dropped from Cabinet.
He billed NRWB a model for other water boards, imploring: “It’s time we started looking beyond urban settings because rural Malawians need potable water, too.”
Similarly, Finance and Budget Committee of Parliament chairperson Rhino Chiphiko rated NRWB as a learning point when it comes to investment of loans and grants government obtains for its agencies.
The Chitipa water system upgrade was bankrolled by Badea to the tune of $10 million (K7.5 billion) and government will pump in $3 million (2.2 billion).
Chiphiko’s committee recently made a budget-tracking tour of Kalenge, especially how it is changing the situation on the ground.
He waxed lyrical: “The board is doing a good job. There are many projects, especially in the roads sector, that run for years and one wonders where the money goes.”
Chiphiko described what he saw as “value for money” and diligent use of the multi-million dollar kitty.
Former president Joyce Banda, who stated it is possible to provide safe water for all Malawians, launched the project on April 15 2014—a month before her poll defeat.
Ralph Jooma, vice-president for Eastern region in her People’s Party (PP), thanks the incumbent Peter Mutharika for sustaining the project.
“This is one of the projects which will change lives of Malawians who have waited for reliable supply of clean water for years. We are happy our friends have not abandoned it. We need continuity to develop the country,” he says.
Jooma urges the contractors not to relent.
More to come
The pace has reportedly persuaded Badea to dangle another loan.
“The financier has shown green lights and we intend to take another loan for expanding the water supply in Karonga to make sure it corresponds with developments and rapid population growth,” NRWB director of technical services, engineer Mwiza Mtawali, revealed.
Interestingly, the villagers are taking part in safeguarding the water source from deforestation, open defecation and other hazards.
Symbiotically, the board has pledged to construct a school block and a teachers house at Naching’anda at the source of Kalenge, a laboratory at Kalenge Community Day Secondary School, boreholes for populations bordering the river and communal water kiosks for almost 10 000 villagers along the 40 kilometre pipeline.
“Traditional leaders signed a memorandum of understanding and the locals have made nurseries,” says community relations aide Gerald Ngulube.
The locals sound enthused.
Upstream, a Naching’anda villager said: “The promised boreholes will change lives, but we are looking forward to uninterrupted water supply when we go to the district hospital.”