Expert questions rationale of rural water supply

With the water table continuing to decline, an expert has questioned the rationale of investing in boreholes as a political answer to water crisis in rural areas.

An expert in the water sector, Muthi Nhlema, told Nation on Sunday that more boreholes are likely to become obsolete in the near future if the water table continues to decline, begging a question of whether government a n d non-governmental organisations (NGOs) should still continue investing in construction of boreholes.

Blantyre residents being served by a water bowser after their taps run dry for days on end

But chairperson for Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, Irrigation and water Development Joseph ChidantiMalunga allayed fears of looming catastrophe, arguing the “overall effect of boreholes on ground water depletion is very negligible”.

In the last Budget meeting of Parliament, government allocated K2.3 billion for rehabilitation and construction of boreholes in all the 193 constituencies in the country, translating to K12 million per constituency.

Nhlema describes the K2.3 billion as a ‘waste of money’ aimed at political visibility than beneficial development.

“But I also suspect that government may be aware that boreholes are a waste of time and money because they have the information. This is a political decision ahead of 2019 polls someone is looking for political correctness,” he said.

Nhlema said their analysis has revealed that about 30 percent of water points, such as boreholes and wells, have dried up across the country, leaving the rural population in dire stress as they have to walk longer distances to fetch water.

But Modesta Kanjaye, director of Water Resources in the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development said so far it has never been established that a borehole has dried up due to low water levels.

“However, it is common knowledge that boreholes dry up due to over pumping. That is to say pumping more than what that borehole can supply per unit time or because the borehole has reached its design period and may need redevelopment to regain its effectiveness,” she said.

Kanjaye said shallow wells are more prone to drying up easily due to low water table.

Chidanti-Malunga, however, said the country cannot do away with boreholes in the interim.

“There are areas where we need them. For example, in rural areas where surface water is not available, definitely groundwater becomes the source. Perhaps what we could be talking about is how we extract this ground water, using hand pumps or using solar or wind,” he said, adding that this year’s arrangement of boreholes was necessary because the Department of Water did not budget for them.

Member of Parliament for Dedza East, who is Health Committee chairperson Juliana Lunguzi, once courted controversy in the House when she opposed to the idea of government drilling more boreholes, saying this damages the water table.

In an interview with Nation on Sunday, Lunguzi stood by her statement that Malawi should phase out boreholes and consider safer technologies which include construction of dams for water supply.

“I stand by my point. We do not need boreholes. Coming back to your question, there is nothing I could do because it is a House of 193 members and I am just one voice which cannot really make a difference” She said.

Legislator for Mzimba South East Rabson Chihaula Shaba questions the logic of having the same amount of funds for all constituencies even when there are conspicuously different in terms of terrain and need.

“For instance, one borehole which was sunk close to Khosolo Admarc went as deep as 60 metres and it did not yield enough water and within two years it was no longer in use,” he said.

A 2005 WaterAid analysis of water mapping in Malawi and Tanzania recommended the need to intensify water mapping for equal distribution of the resource at the same time to balance abstraction of water from the ground and infiltration.

Contrary to expectations, the report notes: “In reality, decision-making is limited by substantial information gaps and existing evidence does often not enter the political realm because it is pushed aside by other, more powerful agendas. This is, for example, the case in Malawi where, in the past, political affiliations rather than need tended to determine the provision of water points to local communities”.

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