Going down the road to Naotcha Primary School from Chilobwe Trading Centre in Blantyre, one meets women carrying buckets, coming from different directions of search for water.
Reaching the famous Kagumba Bar, there is a queue of 20-litre jerry cans and buckets with a few people waiting at the sidelines of dry pipes of a kiosk. Everyone hopes that when the water comes, they should be the first to fetch.
Sometimes they wait half a day, or until sunset, yet other times, they return home with no water, leaving their buckets on the queue in the hope that the water may come out at night.
Such has been the routine for Edna Chiyambi for the years she has lived in Naotcha.
“In the 1990s, Blantyre Water Board (BWB) would bring us water through their bowsers whenever we had dry taps, I don’t know what happened to this initiative,” she says.
This is probably why most households in Chilobwe keep a 100 litre drum, several jerry cans and large basins for water storage. In smaller houses, the drums take up most of the space, and many households have a pit latrine as an alternative.
The problem of water made Pastor Isaac Mpazula find a solution. These days, he supplies water to the dwellers at a fee.
“The water problem does not seem to have a solution, especially since the population is increasing every year,” notes Mpazula, who has lived in the area since 1990.
In 2003, he started experimenting with the idea of pumping water from a spring on Soche Mountain into tanks that are 15 metres deep, which would then be supplied to residents of Chilobwe. The idea took off and now many people in the area rely on this water.
Currently, interested residents pay K12 000 to get connected. Connection requires that they buy small plastic pipes (PVC pipes), whose length depends on the distance between the main pipe and the client’s house.
Mpazula has also built four kiosks in the area where people fetch water anytime of the day at K2 per bucket. The kiosks have also come to the rescue of half of Chilobwe’s growing population by providing safe water.
However, those that are connected to Mpazula water supply do not have water throughout the day, as it is rationed.
“We can only get 100 litres per day. I pay K2 500 to Mpazula water supply and an average of K1 800 to BWB,” says Chiyambi, adding: “It is painful to be paying to BWB when my needs are not met. When I ask them, I’m told the bill is for the metre.”
She says BWB has left her with no option, but to use Mpazula’s water, although she doubts its safety. Chiyambi says Mpazula boys sometimes open the taps for the clients to draw water late at night or early in the morning which, she says, can be inconveniencing.
But Mpazula says the water rationing is the result of the high demand for the commodity in the area.
“I use small pipes to supply water to residents. That is why I cannot afford to supply water to each household throughout the day,” says Mpazula, who claims to have invested over K10 million into the project.
He employs eight men who move around households to open taps and ensure that only no one collects more than 100 litres per day.
According to Mpazula, there is usually high demand of water during the dry season, yet this is the time the water table is low.
He believes that if government supported his project, the problem of water shortages would be reduced significantly.
“No one seems to be interested in exploring supplying water from mountains, now that other sources have failed us,” says Mpazula.
He says he uses Water Guard to purify the water, but that sometimes health surveillance assistants (HSAs) provide him with chlorine.
Of late, Mpazula has started a similar project for Makhetha Township in Blantyre, where he sources water from Ndirande Mountain and is supplying to an initial population of about 2 000 residents.
Both BWB and Ministry of Irrigation and Water Development say it is illegal to supply water without approval from the Water Resources Board (WRB).
Public relations officer for the ministry James Kumwenda says the 1995 Water Works Act states that it is only BWB that is legally mandated to supply water in Chilobwe, considering that it falls under its water supply area.
“The Water Resources Act of 1969, makes it illegal because the person concerned does not have a water abstraction permit which is supposed to be granted by WRB,” he says.
Kumwenda adds that there are penalties for the violation of water regulations, one of which being the demolition of the water supply network.
Kumwenda attributes the water shortages to the country’s rapid population growth which has resulted in increased water demand that surpasses production capacity of the water boards.
Director of Technical Services at BWB Mavuto Chiipanthenga concurs with Kumwenda, saying there is persistent water shortage in Chilobwe as a result of high growth of unplanned settlements in the area.
“Previously, the board was not supplying services to unplanned areas, but, of late, due to increased demand for the need for potable water, the board softened up,” he says.
Nevertheless, Chiipanthenga reveals that water problems in the area would soon be over since the board is planning to construct a water reservoir at Soche Hill, saying the tank has been located at a higher place enough to supply most areas in Chilobwe.
He explains that BWB produces about 86 000 cubic metres per day while the projected water demand is about 96 000 cubic metres per day.