Why did T/A Kaduya residents sing and dance as Water Wells for Africa drilled boreholes in their midst? JAMES CHAVULA writes.
When people say water is life, they are envisioning a world where every water source is clean, every drop is safe and tapping it does not deprive the poor time to fulfil their dreams.
However, the search for uncontaminated water has been a seemingly endless wait for people of group village head Thunga, T/A Kaduya in Phalombe. The village was hit by the infamous 1991 avalanche which has gone into history as Napolo disaster.
Slightly over two decades after the water eruption from the shoulders of Mulanje Mountain wreaked havoc on lives and goods, the villagers have been relying on Nampende and other streams which flow from Michesi River. For locals, that meant drinking dirty water a stone’s throw away from spots set aside for goats, cattle and pigs.
“There has never been a borehole in the village and waterborne diseases, such as diarrhoea, dysentery and cholera, have been common,” says Emilie Chiotcha of Hapala Village, one of the villages that recently got boreholes from Water Wells for Africa (WWFA). The initiative will also benefit hundreds of households in Makina, Sumaili and Mikholopala villages.
The 32-year-old mother of four, who keeps two orphans, has never tasted tap water as she has grown up relying on streams. To get there she has to walk for almost 30 minutes.
During the dry season, the river dries, paving the way for community members to dig shallow wells which often produce murky water. When the ‘oases’ that dot the seasonal streams run dry too, the women travel for over an hour to get water from Lake Chilwa.
The long travels to the overwhelmed water source also threaten marriages as the long waiting compels men to suspect their wives of promiscuity. The women used to wake up around 4am to make sure that the water points did not dry before they filled their vessels. When it rains, the streams sometimes flood.
“Water problems cause untold misery here and we are grateful to Water Wells for giving us a gift of a lifetime,” says the woman, urging the organisation, government and other well-wishers to help surrounding villages to save the borehole from breaking down due to overuse.
In a 2012 report, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) and World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that between 1990 and 2010 access to safe water in the country improved from 47 percent to 83 percent. If the country sustains the pace, about 95 percent of the population is likely to have germ-free water in two years time.
Although it seems likely that the country will beat Millennium Development Goal four of halving by 2015 the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water, the subtle crisis in T/A Kaduya resembles what WWFA founder Kurt Dahlin observed during his travels in the Southern Region in 1994 when he had his first encounter with people struggling to obtain a single bucket of unhygienic water.
This persuaded Dahlin to devise a way of bringing the treasure of pure water to the thirsty people, WWFA website shows.
Today, his organisation is working hand in hand with locals to provide sustainable water sources in rural areas and reducing health risks associated with unhygienic water.
Boreholes could be a threat to water table and a slip backwards at a time the world is migrating to tap water, but the people that had no clear and clean drops say the pumps are a gift of a lifetime.
And the humanitarian organisation’s footprints in the remote localities that remain unreached by the Southern Region Water Boards mirrors the belief that clean water is the first step out of poverty—and that those without any should have it first.
“Water Wells for Africa works where no one else has. Before we started drilling the boreholes, we walked up and down the area. We were gripped to see that people were drinking from the same streams as livestock, sometimes they had to queue on shallow wells where they could hardly provide clear water,” says the organisations project officer Edwin White in an interview.
White reckons plans are underway to reach out to other needy areas in hard-to-reach pockets, saying they will drill 10 boreholes in Mangochi and four in Lurwe hills in Nsanje.
In the end, the initiative will not only reduce diseases resulting from contaminated water, but also save the time community members, especially women, spend to fetch water. This will in turn increase their time for profitable use, particularly tending to their farms and small-scale businesses.
Behind the manifest benefits is improvement in their livelihoods and income.