Columnists Features

Delayed rains worsen water crisis

CHIMWEMWE MWALE, Lusaka
YOU cannot imagine or live without it because the commodity is life itself.
Water is undeniably life.
The shortage of water seems to be getting worse in many parts of the country with daily newspaper headlines on its scarcity almost becoming boring phrases, especially for Lusaka residents, most of whom now spend sleepless nights looking for the commodity.
Water supply in Zambia’s capital remains a challenge and has been exacerbated by delayed rainfall leading to receded water levels in key sources of the resource.
It goes without mention that the underground water tables have also significantly receded and cannot satisfy the growing demand.
Not too long ago, the Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company (LWSC) announced that water supply in the capital city might become erratic during the months of October and November this year.
And true to the warning, the city is experiencing critical water shortages to the chagrin of residents in affected areas.
A recent random survey by the Daily Mail revealed that residents of Matero, Kanyama, Chunga, Avondale, Chelstone and Chainda including those in some parts of the central business district have been experiencing unreliable water supply for some months now.
Museke Mwaba, a resident of Lusaka’s Avondale, says the water shortage has compelled him and the family to fetch the commodity for storage at awkward times when supply is available.
“If we don’t get water in the afternoon and they decide to give us at 23:40 hours…who will use it at this time? This situation has forced us to a stressful pattern of life, we have to fetch water at the time when we are supposed to be sleeping.
“If we don’t do that, we risk ending up with no water or drive somewhere to look for water… which is costly,” he complains.
Susanne Nakawala of Chelstone has similar challenges.
The supply of water in the area has been intermittent for some time.
Ms Nakawala says big water drums are now a common sight in many homes as they are the only cheaper and viable means of storing reasonable quantities of water.
“It’s a big problem especially in homes where there are newly born babies … you require lots of water because you have to wash the baby’s clothes frequently and just make sure the place is clean.
“I can’t remember the last time I saw water running from the shower [at home],” she laments.
In Kanyama, Mercy Namasiku says the residents wake up at cock crow to make meandering queues at the nearest available water point.
“The past two months have been very difficult. We have been struggling to get water, we wake up at 04:00 hours to line up at kiosks where the [water] pressure is very low. So it takes time for one to fill up the containers…others end up with nothing,” she says.
The LWSC has not cast a blind eye on the scarcity of the life-saving natural resource in the country’s most populous city.
LWSC acting public relations manager Damaseke Chibale says groundwater levels have reached their lowest, while demand has skyrocketed.
The shortage of water, Mr Chibale says, has been compounded by the delayed rainfall, which normally startS in October or early November.
According to Mr Chibale, the daily average water demand for Lusaka is 370 million litres, whereas the production capacity stands at 258 million litres per day, entailing a deficit of over 100 million litres per day.
“This s i tuat ion is also compounded by the effects of the dry season when almost 50 percent of borehole water is lost.
LWSC has over 130 commercial boreholes drilled across the city.
During this dry spell, LWSC has lost about 30 boreholes because they do not have water,” he says.
The rest of the boreholes are yielding water at 50 percent capacity.
Mr Chibale says the utility company is rationing water supply so that it can be distributed to hardest hit areas of the city.
The rationing is supplemented by bowser water supply deliveries as a short term measure.
“However, the long term strategies have been incorporated in the LWSC Investment Master Plan 2035. This investment master plan for water and sanitation requires over US$3billion between 2011 and 2035,” he notes.
It is estimated that the average daily demand for water will rise to 920 million litres by 2035 and this is well catered for in the investment master plan.
“The other long term solution is to construct another water treatment plant on the Kafue River and laying another parallel water line from Kafue River to Lusaka covering a distance of 65 kilometres,” he points out.
Mr Chibale says discussions have reached an advanced stage between government and its co-operating partners to finance the project.
“This is necessary because surface water is more reliable compared to borehole water.
Borehole water is easily affected by human activities such as construction of buildings in recharge areas, which reduces the amount of rain water seeping into the ground to build underground water levels,” he says.
Most Lusaka recharge areas are said to have been tampered with by construction of residential and commercial properties, resulting in the reduction of water volumes sinking into the ground during the rainy reason.
And the water firm, through the Millennium Challenge Account-Zambia, is implementing the US$355million grant scheme dubbed Lusaka Water Supply, Sanitation and Drainage Project.
The grant has been given to government by the US to enable LWSC rehabilitate and expand its water and sanitation infrastructure in some parts of the city. Under the same project, the Lusaka City Council will workon the drainage system.
“The project has reached an advanced stage and major physical works are expected to start early in 2015.The project will see the construction of a 65-kilometre water pipe from the Kafue River to Lusaka to supplement the current water line,” Mr Chibale says.
Mr Chibale has message for the residents. They must also play a role in ensuring that water is prudently utilised.
“If customers change their consumption habits as far as water wastage is concerned, there will be enough water in the network to supply to needy areas. There are some simple water conservation tips which customers can use to save both water and their money,” he urges.
Some of the recommended economical means of utilising water include people brushing and rinsing teeth using water from a glass or cup and by washing their faces using a dish or sink.
Washing vehicles using buckets as opposed to horse pipes is one of the many common tips to avoid water wastage.
Mr Chibale also urges consumers to endeavour to water their flowers and lawns in the evenings and avoid defrosting food stuffs with running water.
“With these simple water conservation tips, we can save so much water for everyone to have something for their daily consumption,” he notes.

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