In this second part of the series on Dzalanyama Forest Reserve, our contributor CHARLES MKOKA looks at the synergy between forest resources and water conservation plus the need to ensure supply of clean and potable water to Lilongwe City residents and the surrounding areas.
“We must save the forest now or risk a dry capital. No action or business as usual is disastrous,” Atupele Muluzi, former Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining said in October 2014 about the situation in Dzalanyama Forest Reserve in Lilongwe.
In a quest to ensure that water is shared equitably as a scare resource, there have been instances when water rationing is implemented in Lilongwe City during scarcity periods. All these measures are taken by Lilongwe Water Board (LWB) to ensure consumers get a share of water for their daily household and industrial use.
Dyson Ganizani, a resident of Area 25, says the water situation sometimes worsens, so much that he even fails to respond to nature’s call because there is no running water in the house to flush the toilet.
Another Lilongwe resident Takondwa Kazembe says most of the time they get tap water at midnight.
“We only get water around midnight,” which is an inconvenience considering the fact that people are supposed to be in bed sleeping and resting.
However, little do the responses link the city’s water challenges to the destruction and degradation taking place in Dzalanyama, the source where water comes from.
During one of the visits to the reserve, director of forestry, Clement Chilima, warned that preference for specific speciesfor charcoal burning will bring negative effects to the ecosystem. This, he says, is because botanical diversification was being compromised and this could affect water holding capacity and the sustainability of the ecosystem in terms of the interconnected web of life biologically.
But why forest and water interconnection interface in the case of Dzalanyama, as a catchment area and reservoir dams at Malingunde in Lilongwe?
Soil and water resources management expert John Mthandi says in a normal ecological set up, tree cover reduces potential energy of the rain drops to hit and remove soil particles from the ground.
He adds that loss of trees and vegetation result in direct rain drop impact, this removes top particles from soil mass. The rain potential energy is immediately transformed into kinetic energy and rainwater has high transportive power which is aided by terrain to transport soil particles. There is less infiltration and hence less recharge to groundwater.
Siltation, especially from agricultural land, he adds, has high contents of nutritive minerals for aquatic plants and algae such as nitrogen. Growth of aquatic plants leads to decreased oxygen and may lead to suffocation of aquatic animals such as fish.
It is this growth of algae, siltation and aquatic weed that is a threat to the supply of clean and potable water to Lilongwe residents.
Cost of degradation
LWB is a statutory corporation established under the Water Works Act of 1995 with the sole purpose of supplying potable water to Lilongwe City residents and per -urban areas.
The current source of raw water is Lilongwe River which originates from Dzalanyama Forest Reserve.
Other rivers that contribute to the water flow in Lilongwe River are Katete, Chaulongwe, Lisungwi and Likuni.
Two dams were constructed on Lilongwe River to store water for use during the dry months. The dams are constructed in series and their capacities are 4.5 and 18.9 million cubic meters respectively.
Kamuzu Dam I which has a capacity of 4.5 million cubic metres will be raised by seven metres starting from this year and its capacity will increase to 25 million cubic metres.
Realising the importance and connection of forests and water, LWB takes a leading role in planting trees in the water catchment area as well as teaming with government and other stakeholders in the tree planting exercise.
The importance of Dzalanyama Forest Reserve and sustainability of water supply to the capital city depends on conservation and management of the forest reserve.
But degradation of Dzalanyama and the entire Lilongwe River Course has increased water treatment costs due to increased raw water turbidity. On average Lilongwe Water Board is spending about K650 million annually for water treatment.
According to the board, forest cover has been directly linked to drinking water treatment costs, so the more forest in a water source watershed, the lower the cost to treat that water because forests provide benefits by filtering sediments and other pollutants from the water in the soil before it reaches a water source such as a river or a stream.
Development ecologist Daniel Jamu says the destruction of Dzalanyama Forest should be framed within the context of governance and ownership.
Jamu said it was fine to place the forest reserve under forestry 40 years ago when water demand in the city was perhaps met by only a few catchments.
“The ownership of the Dzalanyama Forest Reserve should have been transferred to Lilongwe Water Board as was the case in the colonial days of Mudi River catchment area where critical catchments were owned by water utility companies.
“The Mudi River catchment is still owned and protected by Blantyre Water Board. The forest reserve is a natural capital of the Lilongwe Water Board and; hence, it is in their strategic interests to protect it otherwise its destruction will result in their failure to provide a service. The protection of Dzalanyama, therefore, should be the direct responsibility of LWB and they can decide how best to protect the reserve,” says Jamu.
He advises that without a drastic change of ownership and governance of the reserve, it is highly likely that Lilongwe will face a water crisis arising from inadequate supply and high costs of treatment due to silt load resulting from loss of poor soil cover. n