If you can consistently have water in Blantyre for more than three days you are very lucky.
I am told that in some parts of the commercial city, families have gone without water for two weeks.
Imagine that—14 days without running water in a house that has toilets inside; in a family with babies who are in constant need of water and in a city and township that is not known for very good sanitary environments.
What is worse is that the Blantyre Water Board (BWB) cares very little about whether you have water or not.
If they did, they would have a robust communication plan that not only informs their clients about their water schedules, but also getting feedback on its mediocre services. I don’t think that it is fair for people to live on hope—every morning turning on taps, hoping against hope, that there would be water only to have heart breaks when not even a single drop of the life-saving liquid comes out.
The idea that in this day and age, in a city—even a dirty one like Blantyre—people with working piped water infrastructure in their homes should be walking long distances with pails and zigubu in search of water as if they are in a backward failed State.
I don’t think it is fair that people should leave their homes for the office in the morning without a bath simply because that would be a waste of water—they would rather keep that water for drinking and cooking than washing their bodies.
I do not believe that BWB, or any other water board for that matter, should be allowed to turn all of us into filthy animals simply because it cannot deliver on its promise. And I am not convinced that government—which owns BWB and other water boards—should be allowed to get away with this either. In fact, we are tired of politicians’ lip service on the matter.
The embarrassing performance of water boards has been there for a long time, but Capital Hill has all along ridiculously decided that paying a blind eye is a good strategy.
That is why I refuse to buy the saber-rattling from Agriculture and Water Development Minister Dr. Allan Chiyembekeza who, as far as I am concerned, feigned anger at BWB for poor service delivery and terrible overall performance.
Well, someone should tell the good Minister that I am not interested in his anger. All I want is for him to show me a plan on how he would turnaround the water boards.
If management is a problem, I want him to tell us what he will do about it.
But to tell us that he is angry and then jumps on his expensive tax-payer funded car and driving off to his next rhetorical assignment is not helpful to Malawians.
The issue here is that a pig does not give birth to a dog. The inefficiencies of BWB are a reflection of the underperformance at the line ministry and the whole government architecture.
I mean, if government is serious about making the water boards perform better, then why is Capital Hill not clearing the K1.5 billion in water bill arrears it owes the five water boards: Northern, Southern, Central, Blantyre and Lilongwe.
According to experts, clearing of the outstanding bills by government is a critical milestone that is crucial to helping the boards achieve another important target: rolling out pre-paid meters seen as the only realistic path to the utilities’ improved cash flows and financial sustainability.
Again, if government wants to see water boards do a better job, why—according to a World Bank mission report—is it resisting prepaid meters, which experts cite to be one of the most effective ways of improving water resources management at the national level and boost access to safe drinking water, which is low at the moment?
Just so you know, about 43 percent of Malawi’s population draw water from shallow wells, streams and other unreliable water sources that expose them to water related diseases. Of course, given that even those with access to piped water from water boards are no better, the figure must be worse than this. My point is that the bad behaviour of government itself is copied by its companies, leading to fatal incompetence.
As we speak and as most Malawians frequently go without tap water, water boards are failing to spend billions of kwacha from the World Bank to end the problem of unreliable water supply simply because they are too incompetent to implement project activities on time and help to serve their customers better.
And because of this incompetence, Malawi now risks losing a huge chunk of the $120 million (approximately K54 billion at present exchange rates) World Bank investment towards reduction of water woes in urban and peri-urban areas, according to a February 2014 draft Aide Memoire between Malawi Government and World Bank.
It is now just slightly over a year before the five-year project expires and the boards have failed to achieve even half of the initiative’s key indicator—improved access to water supply—making do with just a 44 percent pass rate on the target.
Does that show that government and the water boards are committed to improving the country’s sorry water situation? No, Honourable Minister, do not hoodwink us with your fake anger because, by the end of the day, the buck stops at you. You are as much a failure as the water boards you claim to be angry at.