Lilongwe City is in its worst water crisis! This is the message the Lilongwe Water Board chief executive officer, engineer ALFONSO CHIKUNI, is sharing with the public. Our SAMUEL CHUNGA, the Lilongwe Bureau Chief, engaged Chikuni on the matter. Excerpts:
Lilongwe is experiencing its worst-ever water crisis in recent decades. How serious this crisis?
It is, indeed, a very serious situation. The current water shortage is due to the low water levels at the two dams; Kamuzu Dam I and II. This is coming in the wake of the drought that has hit the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) region in the past two rain seasons of 2014-2015 and 2015-2016. The late start and early cessation of rains in the two seasons have deprived the rivers of the much needed flows and recharges which are conventionally utilised for production before the dams are opened (typically, in September). In the two-year period, dams have been opened much earlier; for example in 2015-2016 season, the dams were opened in April 2016. Our nominal production is around 4 million cubic metres per month.
Our dam capacity is around 24 million cubic metre. Moreover, the dam storage has been hugely compromised by the high level of siltation emanating from the Dzalanyama degradation. The actual storage stands at 20 million cubic metres. Therefore, the dam reservoirs’ capacity can only achieve a four months’ production that is from April to September. Against this background, the Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) has reduced production and it is rationing water to the residents of Lilongwe in a bid to even out supply to the next rain season.
What short-term plan does the LWB have in order to cushion the impact of the water crisis?
We have five short-term intervention measures. These are the Water Demand Management, the Lumbadzi Groundwater Development Project, the Additional Groundwater Development, the Intake Weir Raising and Dredging and the Emergency Lake Malawi Water Source Development. The Under Water Demand Management Project tries to counter the fact that a considerable amount of potable water is being wasted by both institutional and residential customers through inefficient water use. This includes leaving taps running, careless watering of gardens, washing cars, using hose pipes and unattended-to leaks in households and institutions. So we plan to augment the existing surface water with the Lake Malawi source for an additional capacity of 50 million litres per day. This would increase water supply to the city from four days to seven days a week and 24 hours of supply. LWB is in the process of sourcing funds.
What about long-term plans?
In the long-term, we have two programmes; the Lilongwe Water Supply Programme (LWP) and the Lake Malawi Water Source. The LWP is under preparation. Feasibility studies have been completed and the mobilisation of financing (around $300 million) underway. The Lake Malawi Water Source is a long-term project depicting Lake Malawi as a solution to the City water problems. It is expected to be a multi-purpose water source. LWB, in collaboration with other stakeholders, is preparing feasibility studies for the “Rhino Project”. The studies are expected to be completed by March 2017.
When you ration water, residents become furious and they think LWB is failing to serve them. What is your response?
Water rationing is an intricate procedure and can only be carried out by professionals, which we are. Our members of staff are qualified and capacitated accordingly to operate the systems. The challenge comes in when the distribution network cannot cope with the changes introduced through operating the system. Our situation is peculiar in that we are operating the distribution system whose instrumentation has either been vandalised or stolen, making the network to give in and burst due to differential pressures, since we have no gadgets to release air or to close for repairs. These network failures compromise the set out plans for rationing. Besides, the speed of water in pipes is significantly slow and, sometimes, time taken to reach targeted areas is too long.
Will this crisis inevitably force big institutions like schools, prisons, hotels and hospitals to close later this year?
Unfortunately, our analysis has revealed that these are some of the institutions that top the list of high water consumers and where there is also a lot of wastage. These are among the targets of our water crisis management campaigns, as we feel that such institutions can play a big role in our efforts to save water.
Going forward, you are passionate about changing the LWB organisational culture? What do you mean?
As I pointed out, we have the right caliber of staff with adequate capacity to deliver the service. However, it is the organisational behaviour that is a cradle of concern. The approach and mentality in the execution of our duties still remains a humongous challenge. As LWB, we are currently implementing a number of activities that are aimed at having our personnel change their attitude towards work. In fact, we have a comprehensive Pathway to Success Programme (PSP) where some development partners are assisting with capacity building and change management programmes. The indications, so far, show that we are heading in the right direction.
We understand that LWB is owed heavy sums in unpaid service bills by public and private institutions. Is this true? Why not name and shame them?
Yes, I can confirm that we are owed a lot of money by both public and private institutions and, yes, naming and shaming would be the appropriate action to take. However, you must be mindful that these are our customers and we do not think that such an approach will do good to our customer service- provider relationship. What we have done is to engage all those who are owing us money and, in some instances, we have moved to disconnect our supply to those who are not paying.
Lastly, what lessons can be drawn from this water crisis?
There are, indeed, a number of lessons learnt so far and one of them, as I mentioned earlier, is the need for a national adoption of an IWRM that includes the need to recycle, reuse, re-innovate, reengineer, renovate and rehabilitate. Again, it is time we graduated from only planning to implementation experts. Slowly, the water sector landscape will improve. n