Water is life, so the saying goes. However, for some people in Traditional Authority (T/A) Mzikubola in Mzimba, the adage was just another story until a few months ago.
Since the early 1970s, people in the area, especially from Ezekiya Amon Moyo Village, have lived without clean water, a means to health; and to them, the mention of safe water point was non-existent.
They used to share the water for home use with animals.
Even though the country has just celebrated 55 years of independence, some parts like the area of T/A Mzikubola still lack clean and safe water.
“We just heard water is life, but to us it was death because we had no access to clean water. It’s by the grace of God that we are alive as our bodies adapted and became immune to waterborne diseases,” said Lunesi Zimba, a resident from the area.
Fortunately for her and others, they are now singing a new song because Northern Region Water Board (NRWB) has brought tap water to the area through the $22.85 million (K16.9 billion) Mzimba Integrated Urban Water and Sanitation Project for sustainable potable water supply and improved sanitation in Mzimba and surrounding areas to over 78 000 people.
Zimba said they used to walk long distances in search for water, but now that they have piped water from NRWB, everything is alright.
“Now even cases of waterborne diseases in children have gone down. The children were more affected than us because their bodies are more prone to diseases. But for us, our bodies adapted to the dirty water,” chided in Nailesi Mhone from the same village.
Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number six aims at ensuring that there is access to water and sanitation for all as it is essential to have clean and accessible water.
However, due to bad economics or poor infrastructure, millions of people including children die every year from diseases associated with inadequate water supply, sanitation and hygiene.
Water scarcity, poor water quality and poor sanitation negatively impact on food security, livelihood choices and educational opportunities for poor families across the world.
But in an effort to make water more accessible to everyone even in the villages, NRWB, says it is doing all it can, not to leave anyone behind in accessing clean water.
In Mzimba, where only 65 percent had access to clean water, the board has managed to supply the commodity to almost everyone all day.
This is not only at the Mzimba Boma, but also in villages like Ezekiya Amon Moyo, where people for the first time in their life time had access to tap water.
The Mzimba Integrated Urban Water and Sanitation Project was financed by Opec Fund for International Development to the tune of $14.85 million (K10.9 billion), African Development Bank-$5 million (K3.7 billion) and the Government of Malawi $3 million (K2.2 billion).
The project has, among other things, increased the storage capacity; upgraded and expanded the treatment capacity from 1 500 cubic metres per day to 12 000 cubic metres per day as well as upgraded and expanded transmission pipelines and the distribution pipe network.
NRWB chief executive officer Titus Mtegha hailed the Mzimba Integrated Urban Water and Sanitation Project as fruits of healthier communities are manifesting.
Apart from the personalised tap water, the board has managed to construct 30 communal water points around its treatment works where surrounding villages can access clean water from.
“Even though the communal water points were not part of the project, we thought it wise to do so. We can’t let pipes pass through villages while the villagers still drink unsafe water. That’s why we decided on the communal water, and we are glad that almost everyone in Mzimba now has access to clean water,” said Mtegha.
He further said the water provider aims at reaching 100 percent access by 2025.
“Any addition we make is a plus for us and we are moving forward to make that achievable,” added Mtegha.
Before the project, Mzimba had access to water at only 65 percent, and supply was for 12 hours only. However, the 30 communal water points are not free.
“A small fee is charged. On average a household pays K2 300 a month. It is a small tariff which people are able to pay. Having completed the Mzimba project, we are now moving to Karonga to implement a similar project,” explained Mtegha.
However, considering that this is the first time the communities are being charged for water, they argued that it could have been better if the bills were lower.
“The bills are high, they could have at least made it K1500 a month. We don’t work so it’s difficult for us to find that money. But all in all, the entire project is good,” said Owen Zimba of Ezekiya Village.
Mzimba district commissioner Thomas Chirwa has since said the project has helped a lot as the district has water throughout.
“The water system that was there was only for 10 000 people, we have 45 000 people now. We used to have a lot of problems in water supply, this time around people are able to get water at will,” he said.
Through the project, NRWB has also rehabilitated sludge ponds near Mzimba District Hospital; constructed public latrines in schools and a solid waste disposal site to improve sanitation in the district.
The board currently manages ten water supply schemes including Mzuzu, Ekwendeni, Mzimba, Rumphi, Nkhata Bay, Chintheche, Chilumba, Karonga, Songwe and Chitipa.