The road to Tchalo in Rumphi District ends at Mlowe—a low-lying area down the Chiweta escarpment which offer stunning scenery when viewed from the heights.
Thereafter, a perilous two-hour boat ride on Lake Malawi is the only means of transport to access the hugely rocky area that has deprived its people of important developments such as electricity, safe water and communication networks.
“We are sidelined in major development projects because it’s difficult for people to reach us here,” says Sub-Traditional Authority (ST/A) Chapinduka.
The area has no tap water, wells or boreholes, he adds. This forces women to wake up early to draw water from Tchalo River for domestic use.
“We draw water at 5am when people are still asleep. That’s when it is ‘clean’. Otherwise, the water is usually dirty from human activities such as bathing,” says Nyuma Munthali from Jumbo Village.
Munthali says she filters the water with a cloth.
“That is the only way we make the water better. We don’t use Waterguard because it doesn’t smell good for drinking or cooking,” she says.
A stroll along the river is greeted with scores of pupils drinking direct from the river during break time.
“There is no borehole at our school. We usually come here to quench our thirst at break time,” says Tawonga Nyirenda a pupil at Tchalo Primary School.
Lack of safe water in the area has strained the nearby Tchalo Health Centre which is grappling with high cases of water-borne diseases, leaving the clinic without diarrhoea drugs for most of the times.
Clinic officer-in-charge Kaphyongo Kabango says 27 percent of cases reported to the clinic are water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea and dysentery.
Nationwide, according to chief of health services in the Ministry of Health, Dr Charles Mwansambo, half of the diseases reported to hospitals are due to lack of sanitation and 25 percent of deaths in hospitals are related to issues of sanitation.
“Of the 300 cases we received last month, 82 were diarrhoea cases. Most of these are due to lack of safe drinking water in the area. If people had safe water, such cases could not go as far as 10 in a month,” says Kabango.
Tchalo, which borders Ruarwe in Nkhata Bay to its south and Mlowe to its north, is sidelined in development projects due to its geographical position.
The area is not even a beneficiary of the K9 billion African Development Bank (AfDB) water project which seeks to rehabilitate and maintain water schemes and drill 88 boreholes in the district.
Rumphi is a major beneficiary out of the targeted five districts of Ntcheu, Nkhotakota, Mangochi and Phalombe—where government is developing water schemes at Mlowe, Lura, Mhuju, Ng’onga and Hewe.
Rumphi District Council director of planning and development Frank Mkandawire says due to lack of an access road to Tchalo, vehicles for drilling boreholes cannot go through the area.
“The intervention we are thinking of is to have shallow wells and protect them. The other option is to conduct a feasibility study to see which rivers we can use for damming to supply the area with tap water,” he says.
He, however, admits that the road is the priority for these projects and other developments to trickle down to the area.
“We are constructing a gravel road to the area through the Public Works Programme. We are doing this in phases as a short-term plan.
“But, for a long-term plan, government wants to construct a tarred road that connects Mlowe and Usisya. If this road is done, most of the areas along the lake will be opened up for developments,” says Mkandawire.
Plans aside, residents at Tchalo feel neglected by government as they even count the number of top government officials to have ever visited the area.
Tchalo-Mlowe ward councillor Galatiya Kondowe says since independence only Mwansambo has ever visited the area, which to them means nobody cares about their well-being.
“During Kamuzu Banda era, it was the Speaker of Parliament and a minister who visited us. Since then, no top government official has ever visited us except Mwansambo who has come here today.
“We need the President here to appreciate our condition. Maybe that’s when we can have the road, safe water, electricity and other needs,” said Kondowe.
In the meantime, Mwansambo says locals should treat water with chlorine or Waterguard before use. He said this will help reduce cases of diarrhoea in the area.
However, the challenge at Tchalo, says Kabango, is that awareness on use of chlorine and Waterguard is minimal as few people visit the clinic for the sterilising chemical. n