Malawi: Saving Water Kiosks from Political Interference

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George Mhango
Blantyre, Malawi
September 08,2012

Each time a new political party wins a parliamentary seat, some communities in Ndirande, Blantyre know it is that time once again that ugly political bickering hogs dominance of water Kiosks in their constituency.

Communities would be denied their basic green right to portable and safe piped water at the kiosks – their political inclination can be the only unforgivable sin they have committed.

This is a community structure, which becomes politically prone and a game play at the expense of people’s health or call it life and effective service delivery.

Snap interviews with some people unveiled that among other things, once a new committee loyal to the winning MP is formed and takes over the kiosk – It runs a risk of being either damaged and or completely closed down during protests by the outgoing members who are against the regime change.

One of the water Kiosks in Ndirande Malawi where ownership is a problem

They said the worst scenario can be water disconnection due to unsettled bills by the previous committee, which could have performed on assumptions, that their parliamentarian will settle the bills.

Blantyre City Central parliamentarian, Eunice Makanga says about 10 000 USD was left by the previous committee in her area. She however adds the present committee ensures that politics does not take centre stage.

“Through the new committee, we agreed with Blantyre Water Board (BWB) to settle the unsettled bill in bits,” she says.

In addition, there are job losses of a community loyal to the outgoing member of Parliament. However, Jim and Bettie like any other community members are the ultimate victims caught in such dirty political mudslinging prevalent in such water kiosks mainly in the cities of Blantyre and Lilongwe.

Women depend on few boreholes

The Ndirande-Malabada saga, speaks volumes of how politics can affect service delivery, where 103 new recruited water attendants from 80 kiosks were sacked apparently by People’s Party loyalists.

Attendants Mebo Kambilonjo, Dorothy Mahefu and Grace Maganda from Ndirande Malabada confirmed recently to the media of being sacked for allegedly belonging to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The People’s Party (PP) deputy publicity, Ken Msonda did not deny attributing the trend to political change. He said however, the party was resolving the matter.

“Politicians will consolidate their power–and they will make sure their party members control kiosks. Either they employ and or give them most strategic positions,” Grace Nyimbiri, a community member says.

According to Andrew Mbewe, the Supervisor of Ndirande Malabada Water Users Association (WUA), DPP followers claim no one would stop them now because it is their time to have the benefits.
“They have been selling water at exorbitant prices. But where the proceeds go, is no body’s business,” Mbewe alleges.

The Water Kiosks Project was rolled out to provide access to clean and affordable drinking water to low-income earners and in communities which do not have the capacity to basic domestic supply network such as water tapes at household level.

To ensure communal water kiosks management, a best practice model under the Water Users Association (WUA) which is all inclusive of stakeholders from religious, political, traditional, and ordinary members was developed.

Under WUAs, at least 280 000 people in Lilongwe have access to potable water from the water kiosks from the initial target of 800 000. And in Blantyre, about 90 to 150 households depend on 424 water kiosks.

WUA’s run about 60 percent of kiosks in Lilongwe whilst about 18 percent are run through the Private and Public Partnership (PPP) arrangement – and 22 percent of them are run by the board.

While as Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) public relations officer, Trevor Phoya notes that political interference is minimal in Lilongwe, it is only the contrary in Malawi’s commercial hub, Blantyre.

Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) public relations officer, Trevor Phoya

“The board has engaged the community to understand that water is for everyone. And the continued public awareness on settling water bills has been critical in our messaging to ensure sustainable services,” according to Innocent Mbvundula, public relations officer for Blantyre Water Board (BWB).

The BWB and LWB is constructing 363 and 372 Water Kiosks respectively with support from the National Water Development Programme (NWDP) in the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Development which received funding from the European Union and the European Investment Bank (EIB).

The project of water kiosks also take place in Southern Region, Central Region and Northern Region Water Boards with a different financier and there are no cases of political interferences random interviews with management of such boards show.

Further, the rehabilitation of Walkers Ferry and Chileka pumping stations in BWB will increase production and sustainable supply to 105 million liters per day from 86 million liters per day.

Although, UN statistics show Lilongwe meeting MDG seven on ensure environmental sustainability which also seeks to reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015, local NGOs think otherwise.

It is argued that the UN statistics tend to understate the extent of water supply and sanitation challenges which is to a larger extent, hampered by insufficient monitoring strategies of either the population or its coverage.

The bottom line however is, increased public awareness against political interference will resuscitate the hope for sustainable water supply at household level and community involvement to look after their water resources and their communal Kiosks.

And that 70% of multi-sectoral efforts would have scaled up on proper water and Sanitation by 2015, accordingly with the MDG goal number seven.

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