By NEWTON SIBANDA
November 17, 2017.
The groundwater resource underlying Lusaka is of critical importance, providing more than half of the city’s current water needs.
The downside is that this all important resource is also highly vulnerable to contamination from inadequate sewerage provision and solid waste collection, industrial pollution and poorly planned development. Together with unregulated exploitation, this threatens the sustainability of the resource and the well-being of Lusaka’s residents and its economy.
Lusaka’s sprawling George and Kanyama townships illuminate the severity of the problem, where a lack of planning, inadequate water supply and sanitation services and poor solid waste management degrade groundwater resources, with a severe toll on the health and livelihoods of residents.
Through a programme of action research, the Fair Water Futures team has collaborated with community representatives from Neighbourhood Health Committees in the two spawling slums to understand the water security challenges they face, and the relevant laws, policies and responsible institutions.
Fair Water Futures is a Water Witness International programme to scale up the charity’s social accountability monitoring work and improve water security for over half a million vulnerable people in Tanzania and Zambia. Water Witness International is an international charity whose mission is to carry out research, take action and advocate for better water resource management.
By increasing understanding of their rights and responsibilities as water users, the programme has supported community representatives to take action by calling on duty bearers to fulfil their institutional mandates and address their water challenges.
Through tracking the response of duty bearers to community actions, and convening with government partners at the national and district levels, programme has gathered evidence of the underlying causes of the water crisis in Lusaka, and bottlenecks to policy implementation.
Lusaka lies on a plateau of mainly dolomitic marbles and fractured karstic rocks which support a highly productive and extensively used aquifer system which is of great strategic importance to the region.
However, the aquifer is also highly vulnerable to contamination because the water moves quickly through large fractures in the rock and is not subjected to a filtering process.
George and Kanyama are legalised, but largely unplanned settlements in Lusaka, which are located in an area where groundwater resources are extremely vulnerable to contamination.
Across most of Lusaka’s peri-urban areas, sanitation takes the form of simple pit-latrines. Combined with leaking sewerage these discharge untreated human sewage directly into the aquifer which people rely on for drinking water.
Together with pollution from industrial and commercial activity this severely degrades groundwater quality, particularly where development is allowed to encroach into the protection zones normally in place to protect public supply boreholes.
Under the Local Government Act Cap 281, the Lusaka City Council (LCC) has the duty to control developments and the use of land in the interest of public health and safety, and to take measures to prevent the pollution of water supplies in places like George and Kanyama.
Though the Water Resources Management Authority (WARMA) has begun mapping commercial boreholes in Lusaka, the authority has yet to take measures to protect and regulate the use of groundwater resources in Lusaka and the rest of country.
The majority of George and Kanyama residents do not have piped water in their homes. They rely on water provided by the Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company (LWSC) and Kanyama Water Trust (KWT) through water kiosks and communal taps.
However, the number of kiosks and taps is woefully inadequate. Based on design specifications and population figures, the current water supply infrastructure in Kanyama is only sufficient to serve 65 percent of the population.
The amount of water supplied is also inadequate. It is estimated that KWT only provides 10.6 litres per person per day, in contrast to the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended 20 litres per person per day as the minimum water requirement in order to meet basic health and hygiene needs.
Catherine Namfukwe Mulenga, 29, a housewife and marketeer of Kanyama Township recounts the challenges of access to clean water.
“I wake up at 04 hours to draw water and come to the market because after 05 hours, you can’t find water. All this is at the risk of either being killed or raped,” Mrs Mulenga said. The shallow wells which were an option have since dried up.
A survey conducted in 2015 by LWSC found that 70 percent of respondents in George Township received only 1-4 hours of water supply a day, compared to the 12 hour target set by LWSC.
In addition, communal taps operated on behalf of LWSC have no clear schedule for operation; they are open for a limited time, with little warning. Residents are thus forced to travel long distances, and wait in long queues to collect water, and it is women and children who bear the brunt of this burden. The time wasted collecting water eats into income generating activities, and school attendance.
Even when water is available, some residents are unable to afford the tariff, forcing them to seek out water of inferior quality from private boreholes, and unprotected sources such as shallow wells.
In some areas of Kanyama, there are up to five times more shallow wells than water kiosks, and 40 percent of the population uses shallow wells for drinking water, according to the Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP)-a not for profit organisation whose mission is to improve access to water, sanitation, and associated health benefits through multi-sector, stakeholder engagement.
The Water Supply and Sanitation Act, 1997 requires water supply and sanitation utilities to provide efficient and sustainable water supply and sanitation services under the regulation of the National Water and Sanitation Council (NWASCO) which is responsible for licensing, regulating and monitoring commercial utilities.
To ensure that they provide efficient, affordable and sustainable services, NWASCO requires utilities to guarantee a minimum level of service in a Service Level Guarantee (SLG).
Where utilities are not meeting the targets set in their SLG, they are required to formulate a plan which sets out progressive improvements towards meeting the targets in an agreement with NWASCO, called a Service Level Agreement (SLA).
According to NWASCO, LWSC failed to meet the SLG and SLA conditions in 2015 and 2016 for service coverage, and for 2014-2016 for hours of water supply. However, in the face of LWSC’s continual failure to provide adequate water supply and to meet its SLG and SLA conditions, NWASCO has not issued any major directives to the utility during the period of 2013-2016 to address the water shortage, despite identifying George township as a “severely water stressed area.” .
Lusaka’s peri-urban areas lack a sustainable sanitation system. In Kanyama, for example, 95 percent of residents rely on pit latrines, which are the most significant source of ground water contamination.
Studies of ground water quality in Kanyama show widespread contamination of boreholes, public taps and shallow wells.
In George Township, a gap analysis by Village Water found that pit latrines are the most common sanitation facility, with over 4,000 pit latrines found in Lima ward alone. Village Water is an international charity provides hygiene, education and sustainable water for the poor in rural and peri-urban areas.
Sampling of water from KWT and LWSC boreholes in Kanyama found that nitrate concentrations frequently exceed Zambia Bureau of Standards (ZABS) and WHO drinking water standards. High nitrate levels are an indicator of faecal contamination of the water supply, and can cause ‘blue baby’ syndrome- a potentially fatal disease- in infants. Due to inadequate and erratic supply, and problems of affordability, many residents of George and Kanyama use shallow wells as their main source of water.
Shallow wells in peri-urban areas surrounded by pit latrines face severe and dangerous levels of water contamination by pathogenic – disease causing – material. Studies carried out in George, Kanyama and elsewhere in Lusaka show high levels of contamination of groundwater by pit latrines; water quality samples from shallow wells in Kanyama show levels of microbial contamination which vastly exceed ZABS drinking water standards.
In their assessment of LWSC supply systems, Gauff Ingeniuere noted that the use of untreated water from shallow wells is a major contributory factor to high rates of waterborne diseases in George and Kanyama, including cholera, typhoid and diarrhoeal diseases.
Unfortunately, residents often have no option but to use shallow wells and place their health and their family’s health at risk. As 40 year old Prisca Nalungwe of George Township attested:
“We have no choice but to use a shallow well whose water is dirty. We frequently have stomach pains.”
Kanyama suffers from recurring outbreaks of cholera, and studies have demonstrated that the prevalence of cholera in the area is directly linked to the contamination of shallow
While utilities such as LWSC are required to provide efficient and sustainable sanitation services, the provision of sanitation services has lagged far behind water supply.
As of last year, only 17.1 percent of the population in LWSC’s service area was connected to the LWSC sewer network. To date, NWASCO has only focused on the provision of piped sewerage, leaving a major gap in the regulation of on-site sanitation.
According to Section 56 of the Environmental Management Act (2011), local authorities are responsible for solid waste collection and disposal. However, solid waste management on behalf of Lusaka City Council (LCC) is severely limited and sporadic. It is estimated that Lusaka produces 765 tonnes of solid waste, of which only 10 percent is collected and properly disposed.
Indiscriminately dumped solid waste contributes to the incidence of flooding in George and Kanyama during the rainy season, and pollutants associated with solid waste leach out into the groundwater, leading to deterioration of groundwater quality and contributing to the burden of environmentally related diseases such as cholera.
In order to address the issue of inadequate water supply and sanitation services, groundwater contamination, unplanned development, and indiscriminate disposal of solid waste in Lusaka, the committees recommended that NWASCO must issue directives to LWSC to ensure that they meet their SLG and SLA conditions, especially in underserved peri-urban areas such as George and Kanyama, and that LCC must take responsibility for solid waste management in Lusaka, especially in vulnerable, high density peri-urban areas.
The committees also recommended that LCC must manage integrated growth in Lusaka and enforce by-laws to prevent unplanned development and encroachments which may impact upon groundwater resources. They also recommened that WARMA must finalise and implement groundwater regulationsto protect groundwater resources from contamination and over abstraction.