Kasungu thirsts for water

Kasungu residents have taken to social media to vent their frustration with a worsening water crisis plaguing the tobacco-growing town.

“No water here for 10 days!” complains one customer on a WhatsApp group uniting Central Region Water Board (CRWB) customers in the municipality.

Falling levels of Chitete Dam in Kasungu

But some are tormented by more days without water.

“Those of you saying you have no water for 10 days, please, keep quiet. We have stayed for three months [without water]; you are better off,” replies another.

As the thread of complaints lengthens, it takes a CRWB official to explain why the tobacco-growing district frequently runs dry.

“We are working on it. You will have water very soon,” writes the official.

But the water problem is bigger than what meets the eye.

The taps in Kasungu usually dry for days and sometimes they produce murky water. The town’s main water sources—Chitete and Nguluyanawambe Dams—are drying as well.

According to CRWB zone manager Moses Kalenga, Kasungu Water Scheme now produces about 4 000 cubic metres a day for the town that requires 7 000 cubic metres daily.

The dam would quickly dry up in no time if the water board produced enough water for its 5 233  clients every day, he says.

“By now, we would have even depleted all the water from the dams,”” he says.

The country is hit hard by prolonged droughts in southern Africa. This has led to the drying of wetlands, especially Mpira Dam in Ntcheu, Lake Chilwa in Zomba and Phalombe as well as Lake Chiuta in Machinga.

The problems are worsened by deforestation, siltation and rapid population growth.

The highly silted dams in Kasungu are encroached by settlements.

Besides, they are fed by streams that hardly provide enough water.

Actually, Nguluyanawambe Dam sits at the receiving end of a stream that loses water to expansive irrigation farms upstream.

According to CRWB director of technical services John Makwenda, the dam belongs to the family of founding president Kamuzu Banda who owns a mountain top mansion nearby.

The board requested to tap water from the reservoir to “at least meet the demand”.

CRWB struggles to manage Nguluyanawambe Dam which supports livelihoods of fishers and vegetable growers.

“We have challenges to manage and take care of this water source. It’s the only place around with water, so everyone flocks here,”” Makwenda says.

Amid harsh effects of climate change, there are fears that the dams may dry up like Mpira which has left Balaka Town with dry taps since July.

While looking for alternatives, CRWB calls for conservation of water sources and the ecosystems.

But there is some hope for Kasungu residents.

In 2014, the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development engaged Smec consultants to establish the feasibility and produce preliminary designs of a multi-purpose dam in Kasungu Town.

The consultants recommended construction of a 31.2 square-kilometre dam on Dwangwa River, about 16 Kilometers north of Kasungu Town.

If implemented, the biggest dam in the country would solve water supply problems.

“The multipurpose project addresses the multi-sectoral water requirements, including drinking water; industrial and institutional water demand; irrigation development; hydropower generation; and fisheries development,” Makwenda says.

He reckons Kasungu will no longer be the same.”

“The good part is that government has shown willingness to support such projects following the drying up of water reservoirs elsewhere,” he says.

Emma Mbalame, the director of water supply in the ministry, urges water boards in the country to move with demands as dams are drying up.

“Please be assured that this project will be given priority. Dams can dry up. It has happened in Balaka and it can happen in Kasungu,” she says.

Kasungu District Council director of planning and development Blessings Nkhoma is excited with the multipurpose dam project.

“The council is ready,” he says, but cautions: “We would rather being involved instead of just be consulted. From the district down to all local structures, let the people be part of the process.”

In the current national budget, government set aside funds for the environmental and social impact assessment for the project estimated at $235.3 million (about K170 billion).

As water woes continue in Kasungu, talk of the new dam in the pipeline offers a wellspring of hope.

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