Imagine your child telling you that during break at school, he or she went with friends to a nearby stream for a drink.
Granted, your relations telling you that the water you drank after taking meals was drawn from the river down your village or town, which is shared with animals. How would you react to both situations?
Such is the life for people under group village head (GVH)Fodya in Senior Chief Ngabu’s area in Chikwawa District. Communities in this area drink and use water from unprotected sources like Nyakamba River, which flows through the village in Chikwawa Nkombezi Constituency.
Within the village, there are a few potable water sources that are usually crammed with long queues of people.
GVH Fodya has 14 villages. Out of these, only five have boreholes that supply good water.
The remaining nine villages have to endure long distances to other villages hunting for potable water.
They have few boreholes that are functional. Sadly, they produce salty water which is unfit for human consumption.
As such, most communities draw water from unprotected shallow wells.
No wonder, the recent past has seen frequent outbreaks of cholera hitting Chikwawa District.
Elisi Nyamithambo is a resident of Tabu Village. Most people in her area draw water from Nyakamba River for consumption and other domestic uses.
“We do not have a borehole that produces potable water. The ones available are either dry or produce salty water. So we abandoned them,” she says.
“The available sources are the rivers where we share with animals. This is not healthy for us and we are tired of this situation.”
Lack of potable water is not the problem for villages only. Even institutions that provide critical social services to the development of the country are also trapped in this.
Mwalwamba Primary School, located about six kilometres from Ngabu Trading Centre, is one such institution. The school has an enrolment of 700 learners although it has no potable water source to serve them.
“During break time, learners run to rivers to quench their thirsts,” says Robert Magaso, head teacher at the school.
“The porridge we serve them under the school feeding programme is prepared with the water from rivers,” he adds.
This, he says, poses fear of waterborne diseases like diarrhoea, dysentery and cholera.
Magaso blames duty bearers for their lack of response to the needs of the school and the villages in general.
“I presented the problem to relevant authorities in 2015. But up to now nothing has come up,” he says.
During a recent meeting organised by National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust, Joseph January, a representative of GVH Fodya at the function, pointed a finger at the district council for not helping their area.
“We reported the matter to the district commissioner’s office and other duty-bearers but nothing is being done. All we need now is assistance from well-wishers,” says January.
Councillor for Nyakamba Ward, Betason Tito, sympathises with the communities and says duty-bearers are trying to find means of addressing this challenge.
“We are liaising with non-governmental organisations to help us with the provision of potable water. Let me assure people that they should expect to have potable water here anytime soon,” says Tito while at the same time appealing to communities to treat the water before using it.
Member of Parliament for the area, Lloyd Malola, says there is now some light at the end of the tunnel.
Malola says one organisation, Water for People, has embarked on a project to drill 125 boreholes, besides maintaining another 30.
”There is hope that anytime soon communities will access potable water,” he says.
Malola admits that the problem in GVH Fodya is a menace but asks for people’s patience in awaiting the fruits of Water for People and then move forward from there.
“Let’s wait and see what Water for People will offer. Thereafter, we will sit down with area and village development committees to map the way forward to ensure that at the end of it all, we provide clean and safe water to communities within a walking distance,” he says.
Enock Chinkhuntha, Nice Trust Southern Region civic education officer says lack of access to water is a violation of rights in a democratic society.
Chinkhuntha says his organisation will continue empowering communities in demanding their rights by taking duty-bearers to task.
“We will work very closely with the concerned communities to ensure that they get the best quality social services just like any other community in the country as a fulfilment and enjoyment of their right to good health,” he says.
But for now, communities in the area of GVH Fodya will continue waiting before they realise the dream of living in the glory of the famous slogan: ‘water is life.’