Water challenges although not new in Malawi continue to affect lives of people both in urban and rural settings. At Jenda Trading Centre in Mzimba, the story is no different.
When former president Joyce Banda laid a foundation stone to start the construction of Jenda-Edingeni Road in December 2013, residents had more reasons to smile.
Senior Chief Mtwalo in the area of Paramount Chief M’mbelwa VI utilised the event to ask Banda to consider the water woes that had become synonymous with everyday life in the area.
Promises were made. Sooner, Jenda Trading Centre was to wear a new face—that of being free from water shortage.
So, in June last year, when the Malawi Government, through the Local Economic Development (LED) project had completed the multi-million kwacha potable water project in the area, locals had a glimmer of hope. Hope to have safe and reliable water supply gleamed on their faces.
And for a trading centre that was being upgraded to a rural growth centre, access to potable water epitomised a new chapter to the residents.
Sadly for them, their hope never reached a climax. Immediately after the new water system was launched, the same old stories of water problems resurfaced.
“My family has been drinking water from unprotected wells since 1999 when I settled here,” explains Doris Moyo, a mother of two.
“The new water project came with hope to put an end to water problems we have been experiencing. But this has never been the case,” she says.
Tears for safe water are unmistakably seen from the long queues where people wait day-long for water.
It is 10 am. But tens of basins and jerry cans are already lined up at one of the five kiosks in the area—waiting for taps to open later around 4 pm.
Apart from that, taps also open at 6 am for two hours only.
“We have been unlucky. We waited in vain in the morning. We just hope that taps will not be dry again this evening,” says Moyo.
Moyo says in such a scenario where the day goes without water, people resort to unprotected water sources.
“Water from these sources is usually murky and dirty. But we have no choice. This is the type of water we have been drinking even before this project came here late last year,” she says.
According to a committee that was put in place to look after the water system, Water Users Association (WUA), the project has not achieved its intended purpose.
Board chairperson for the association, James Banda, says challenges being experienced are a result of the system’s failure to pump more water as projected.
“The tank has a capacity of 250 000 litres to serve a population of 10 000. But we are unable to pump that amount of water because the solar power we are using is usually not effective.
“We are pumping water during day-time only, and every time there are clouds it means the process of pumping water is delayed,” says Banda.
The water source is situated three kilometres away from the main trading centre. Water is pumped from 60 metres deep using three boreholes.
Forty-two solar panels are used to pump the water.
“We need electricity to pump water day and night. Otherwise, as it is now, demand for water is much higher than supply. Presently, we are supplying a mere 25 000 litres which can only cater for 1 000 people, half the targeted population,” he says.
Banda says initially the project wanted to construct 11 kiosks, but only five have been constructed.
“This has also been a cause for concern because people travel long distances in search of water. If government can install electricity and construct the remaining kiosk these challenges will end there,” he says.
Director of planning and development at the M’mbelwa District Council, Tamanya Harawa, says the council has given the contractor a grace period to rectify the problems.
“We have also contacted Escom to connect the system to electricity. This was one of the recommendations after government officials visited the area.
“In due course, we will also be constructing the remaining six kiosks considering that Jenda is a growing trading centre,” he says.
Presently, Jenda has the same old story of water problems. It is only when Harawa lives by his word that the likes of Moyo will have a new story of reliable water supply to tell.