For two decades, Rose Mizere has been running a restaurant in the border town of Mwanza along the road to Mozambique, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
The eatery is almost everything for the widowed businesswoman, her five children and eight grandchildren, she says.
“This business helps us meet our daily needs. Without it, my dependents and I would be wearing rags, going to bed hungry and unable to pay school fees,” she says.
Every day, scores of travellers entering and leaving Malawi stop to grab affordable bites from the restaurant.
The ceaseless traffic makes the tarmac a major corridor of infections such as Covid-19, which spreads at the speed infected persons travel.
However, improved water supply has helped the woman stay in business despite the hostile environment caused by the coronavirus disease prevented by frequently washing hands with soap.
“A restaurant is nothing without water,” says Mizere. “There is no greater heartbreak than seeing customers walk out on you because the water looks dirty.”
The setback was common until last year when taps in the restaurant that employs three started producing clean water from the high-yielding borehole drilled by Southern Region Water Board (SRWB).
This is one of the 14 high-yielding boreholes constructed under the Malawi Drought Recovery and Resilience Project (MDRRP) implemented by the Ministry of Forestry and Natural Resources with support from the World Bank in partnership with the Government of Malawi.
“The boreholes have improved the quality of water for cooking, drinking, washing utensils and cleaning the restaurant. I no more ask myself: Is this water or mud?” she narrates.
The clean water makes customers eager to buy from her and wash their hands before eating.
“This has saved my lifeline as Covid-19 is pushing many people out of business. I no longer lose customers or spend my meagre earnings on buying bottled water for them,” Mizere states.
Clean water also encourages my customers to protect themselves by washing their hands.
The Ministry of Health reports that more than half of outpatients nationwide seek treatment for diseases prevented by safe water, sanitation and hygiene, including washing hands with soap.
Engineer Leo Nyadani, SRWB scheme manager in Mwanza, is excited that adequate and consistent water supply is helping customers such as Mizere beat hunger, poverty and disease.
“Mwanza scheme has approximately 3 000 connections and 2500 active ones. Every month we connect about 20 new customers motivated by the good news from happy customers, who are getting adequate and clean water,” he says.
The engineer blames the soiled water on rapid loss of forests due to a growing thirst for fuelwood, new farmlands and settlements.
Nyadani states: “Mwanza water systems started in 1960 to serve 500 customers only. By 1990, the population had already grown beyond its capacity and the catchment upstream was degraded by agricultural activities.
“As a result, rainwater racing on bare slopes chokes Mwanza River with silt. The groundwater from the deep borehole producing 26.5 litres a second is free from siltation.”
SRWB was looking for a new and sustainable water source for a bigger population when the World Bank project kicked off to beat the 2015 dorught which severely hit 24 districts.
“The old system could only produce about 800 cubic metres a day against the demand of 1 500 cubic metres. The water was muddy during the rainy season and the volumes could fall by half during the dry season,” Nyadani explains.
Tapping groundwater water has eliminated the high cost of purifying water using sand and chemicals. Nowadays, the utility only uses chlorine, not chemicals that cause mud to stick together.
“The rivers were heavily silted that the purifiers could not adequately filter the mud. The new system has muted a public outcry as our customers get clean water throughout the year,” the SRWB engineer says.
SRWB is also saving on electricity because there is no double pumping.
He expounds: “Previously, we had to pump water from the source to the treatment plant and then lift it from there to the reservoir.
“Now the high-pressure pump pushes groundwater straight to the storage tank and then supplied to the customers.”
This has slashed electricity consumption by over half while increasing the water supply from 10 to 18 hours.
SRWB revenue has also surged from K151 million to K382.5 million a year as customers no longer resort to water sources that are not fit for human use.