There is an increasing demand for potable water globally and Malawi is not an exception. Although reports indicate that more than 75 percent of Malawians have access to safe drinking water, there is a big challenge to maintain steady supply in cities and most towns as is indicated by press releases and radio announcements on water supply interruptions.
On March 22, Malawi joined the rest of the world in commemorating World Water Day. Although I did not participate in this year’s event, it is clear that there was a lot of excitement and nice presentations on the strides different stakeholders have made on providing safe water in the country.
Despite all the efforts being made, provision of reliable potable water remains a challenge in the country. Billions of money has been invested in water infrastructures by government, development partners and non-governmental organisations.
As more money is invested in the water sector, demand for water is also increasing due to increasing population. This is a vicious cycle which requires proper attitude to deal with.
To most Malawians, water is treated as a social good which is why there is little effort to conserve it. As water is becoming a precious resource, there is need to change our mindset and start treating water as an economic good.
The provision of water should never be free, but everybody should be paying for water the same way we pay for maize, airtime and other basic commodities. I understand this is a thorny issue and can be argued by many people especially politicians who use water as a political tool.
Water utility companies fail to provide expected service delivery because of limited financial resources due to low water tariffs that are regulated by government.
With the reforms being championed by government itself, I suggest the setting of tariffs should be based on the economic value of water and if there is a deficit the government should be paying in form of water subsidy. This will enable the water boards to generate adequate revenue from water sales which can be used in improving water supply infrastructures.
There is an increase in dependence of bottled water, especially in workshops as people consider it to be more pure than tap water. The cost of one litre of bottled water is more than 10 times the cost of tap water of the same volume though tap water is as pure as bottled water.
If people are able to buy bottled water at high prices, it is also possible that they can buy tap water at a reasonable price.
Another way to deal with water scarcity is to make good use of the available quantity. In other countries, a water user is allocated the maximum volume they are allowed to use. This helps to reduce water wastage so that there is equitable usage of the precious resource.
The major solution to Malawi water problems is to make meaningful investments in the sector. Water, despite being a constitute of bigger percentage of human body as well as being a catalyst of several industrial products, is not considered a precious resource and vital tool for socio-economic development.
There is little private sector participation in water development. I am aware that the provision of water is not liberalised, but direct support to key players in the sector is equally good.
If we can only consider water as an economic good and complement government’s efforts in the development of water resources for the betterment of the nation and protect water catchment areas, we may boast of having made a stride in the provision of water and our commemoration of the World Water Day will be meaningful as we will be able to boast of our achievement.
Therefore, as it is widely accepted that water is life, let us consider it an economic good. n