March 22, 2012
Every 22nd March, the world marks international water day, held as a means of focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for the sustainable management of freshwater resources.
Water Journalists Africa Network, joins the rest of the world to mark this day with one of our members Violet Mengo visiting Kashikishi-one of the communities in the world lacking water; just water and not safe water and now the lack of water is attracting more problems into lives of people of Kashikishi.
WITH her nine-month-old baby strapped on her back, Kaluba Chola emerges from her grass-thatched hut before daybreak to embark on a routine daily journey to fetch water about eight kilometers away.
By her side is Patience, her 12-year-old daughter who prefers carrying out this chore to going to school in this remote Yenga Village tucked in Nchelenge district of Luapula Province, which borders the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Chola wakes up early despite howling nocturnal birds and animals to beat the queue at the communal borehole sunk by a charity organisation a decade or so ago.
Covering a 16-kilometre journey on foot is beyond intrigue. More so that by the time Chola treks back home after midday with 80 litres of water on a noisy screeching wheelbarrow, she is exhausted and dejected.
Her dream of having access to constant supply of clean water seems not a reality. Not only that, she has not had food since morning and has no idea where the family’s meal will come from.
“Waking up in the wee hours is now part of our life, it is only sad that my little girl misses her class most of the time to line up at the communal borehole,” Chola says, with a clear expression of regret on her face.
Patience, a grade five pupil is supposed to be in class at 09:00 hours but she stays away from school due to house chores. For her, school is optional while drawing water is mandatory. This is routine.
When she submits to fatigue or has no money to pay for the water at the communal borehole, she is forced to walk a few kilometres further to fetch water at the natural source – the crocodile-infested Lake Mweru. The risks are obvious but options limited too.
The blood-thirsty reptiles have mauled many, yet they have not been cropped and there seems to be no plans from the marine department.
Apart from that, Chola puts her life and that of her family at risk of water-borne diseases such as cholera and dysentery, which are quite prevalent in Zambia as water from this body is not treated.
For her living, she runs a small shop of merchandise just at her house while her husband is a fishmonger. His business has been going down due to illegal fishing methods practiced in the area.
Between November and February every year, government imposes a fish ban to allow the stock to breed. ‘Wrongdoers’ are prosecuted and imprisoned although the sentence is short and, therefore, not prohibitive.
However, the depletion of the fish due to illegal fishing methods has forced most local people to engage in other economic activity such as charcoal burning and farming.
Despite these activities, majority of the people in Kashikishi have remained very poor. According to Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflections (JCTR), the food basket for Lusaka stands at K2.6 million (US$600) per month for a family of six.
But the people of Kashikishi only survive by His grace as most of the residents’ expenditure is less than US$1 per day.
The World Bank estimates that over 80 percent of Zambians live in households that lack adequate means to meet basic daily needs (over 90 percent in many rural areas).
As wages stagnate or fall in real terms, an increasing number of Zambian families are being forced to go without the normal three meals a day. Even the meals taken have no basic balanced diet.
The figures on malnourished children have a telling effect. Many families have to expand economic activities by engaging in extra trade, small-scale business or crime, corruption and other ills.
In Zambia, the story of Chola and her community is not unique. Most rural parts of the country lack access to clean safe drinking water. Sanitation is a worse off challenge.
Despite the availability of the water from Lake Mweru, Luapula River and other small dams, it has been a huge challenge for the local people to access clean safe water.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report 1998, whose focus was on consumption, states: ”Human development is a process of enlarging people’s choices.
Enlarging people’s choices is achieved by expanding human capabilities and functioning. At all levels of development the three essential capabilities for human development are: to lead long and healthy lives, to be knowledgeable and to have access to the resources needed for a decent standard of living.
The establishment of the Luapula Water and Sewerage Company (LWSC) in 2009 has excited of Nchelenge. Since the company started its operations in 2010, it has been serving 280 households from the initial 400 connections, which were once under the local authority – Nchelenge District Council.
LWSC support service officer Charles Kalapa is concerned with the kind of water being supplied to clients.
“The infrastructure is dilapidated and compromises the quality of water given to our customers,” Mr Kalapa says.
The district only has one water reservoir, so the water is pumped directly from the pump house to clients after chlorination.
As though this challenge is not enough, LWSC only supplies water to its customers for 45 minutes only in the night due to low voltage of electricity the company receives. “During the day, we are not able to supply water because electricity supply is very low and our machines cannot work. The water pump machines runs at 380 volts and the electricity we receive is only 200volts,” says LWSC Nchelenge district manager Daniel Namasuno.
As a result the company cannot expand its service to include new clients. According to the 2010 National Census Report, Nchelenge district has a total population of 148, 671.
The Zambia Electricity Supply Corporation (ZESCO) is aware of the challenges of power supply experienced by people in Luapula province.
Director – Corporate Affairs Bestty Phiri explains: “We have embarked on installation of capacitor banks which will improve the low voltage for Luapula Province.”
Mr Phiri says the project will run for 18 months and the situation is expected to improve by June 2013.
How people manage
What people do, when LWSC supply water in the night, they are forced to store and use the following day, although it is never enough. This has resulted in many customers relying on the unclean water from Lake Mweru or Luapula River.
With an increase in the number of people who need water and want to be connected to the LWSC, the system has been overloaded and creating pressure on the machine.
LWSC District Manager for Nchelenge Daniel Namasumo says the increase in demand for water has created a huge problem for the utility company.
Mr Namasumo says Kashikishi is among the most prone areas in Zambia to diarrhoea because of people using untreated water from the lake.
On the shores of the lake, some people bath as others are catching fish while others wash their clothes and children playing in the water.
Water borne diseases are common in this part of Zambia especially in the rainy season when diseases are on the increase.
Ministry of Health spokesperson Kamoto Mbewe says diarrhoea is mostly associated with contamination of food and water.
Dr Mbewe says some viral infections can lead to diarrhoea and vomiting and the strains are highly contagious, being spread through unwashed hands.
“Shared drinks, utensils, and contaminated food also provide passage into your unsuspecting stomach. Hand washing, clean kitchens, and common sense go a long way to keep viruses under wraps,” he says.
To reduce the risk of bacteria-related diarrhoea, cook meat, poultry, and eggs completely. Wash your hands, utensils, and surfaces.
The water project
But the water blues for residents of Nchelenge will soon be confined to history. A novel project has been designed to address the challenges and make the residents proud of themselves again, looking forward to a brighter future.
The initiative has been mooted by the National Water and Sanitation Council (NWASCO) through Devolution Trust Fund (DTF), which has approved a project to extend the water network, put up a water tank (100 cubic metres) and construct water kiosks at a cost of K2 billion.
NWASCO is a regulatory body for water providers ensures efficiency and sustainability of water supply and sanitation service. It works in liaison with DTF, which is a basket fund that gives water utilities money to improve water supply in urban and peri-urban areas of Zambia.
The project targets 100 families who will benefit from the 10 water kiosks and 120 individual connections. More than 2,000 people will benefit from the water kiosks in Kenani, Yenga and Malutu villages.
The project started in October 2011 and is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
DTF manager Samuel Gonga is optimistic of extending the financial support to LWSC should the first project be carried successfully.
The basket fund has since 2007 been able to provide almost a million people with access to sustainable water supply in peri-urban and low cost areas. Its target is to reach 2.5 million people by 2015.
Gonga, however, says the target may not be reached by 2015 because of lack of absorption capacity of funds by the water utilities to implement projects within a short period of time.
He also attributed the limited funds to the basket fund as another hindrance to reach the 2.5 million targets. So far only Germany and the European Union are among the major donors to DTF.
In as much as the people of Kashikishi are expectant of safe clean water, the onus is on the water utility to work within the agreed time frame with DTF.
The 2,000 plus people to benefit from the project is a good start for the people of Nchelenge of better projects to come.