When Water Turns Political In Malawi

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George Mhango, Blantyre, Malawi
September 14, 2015

In the cities of Blantyre and Lilongwe communities are the ultimate victims caught in the dirty politics prevalent in water kiosks. There are job losses of those loyal to the outgoing legislator.

Children fetching water in Bangula camp in Nsanje district of Malawi
Children fetching water in Bangula camp in Nsanje district of Malawi

Snap interviews showed that among other things, if a new committee loyal to the winning parliamentarian is formed and takes over the kiosk – It runs the risk of being damaged or closed down during protests by the outgoing members who are against the regime change.

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.

Typical Example of the Situation
With support from the CSE Media Fellowship Programme for the Global South, George Mhango discovered a typical example of political interference in Blantyre’s Ndirande-Malabada within Malawi’s commercial capital.

In the area, CSE discovered that the saga speaks volumes of how politics can affect service delivery. This is because 103 recruited water attendants from 80 kiosks were sacked apparently by the then ruling People’s Party (PP) loyalists.

Attendants Jessica Kwandama, Charles Kambwiri and Georgina Kaliwo from Ndirande Malabada admitted to being sacked for allegedly belonging to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The People’s Party (PP) deputy publicity, Ken Msonda was on record to have attributed the trend to political change. He, however, said, 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,” Josephine Kaitene, one of the household members says.

Background of Water Kiosks
Arguably, 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 taps at household level.

A water Kiosk in Ndirande Malawi. In places without access to clean water children and walk long distances, use dirty water from ponds and rivers or they are charged large amounts of money by water sellers.
A water Kiosk in Ndirande Malawi. In places without access to clean water children and walk long distances, use dirty water from ponds and rivers or they are charged large amounts of money by water sellers.

For guidance sake, best practices model under the Water Users Association (WUA) which is all inclusive from religious, political, traditional, and ordinary members was developed.

With WUAs, there are 280 000 residents in Lilongwe who have access to potable water from the water kiosks from the initial target of 800 000. Suffice it to say that in Blantyre alone, about 90 to 150 households depend on 424 water kiosks.

Findings have shown that WUA’s run about 60 percent of kiosks in Lilongwe while about 18 percent are run through the Public and Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement– and 22 percent of them are run by the water boards.

Boards and Government Involvement
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 Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development which received funding from the European Union and the European Investment Bank (EIB).

The project of water kiosks also takes 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.

The Take of United Nations
UN statistics show Malawi meeting MDG seven on ensuring environmental sustainability this year. The MDG 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.

This story was investigated with support from CSE Media Fellowships Programme.

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