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Groundwater regulation

LUSAKA has seen borehole drilling companies (drillers) mushroom over the years and anyone using the Great East Road as he/she heads to Kenneth Kaunda International Airport is greeted by many adverts of drilling companies with borehole drilling being their main business activity.
A walk through some townships in Lusaka confirms an increased number of boreholes. It is a known fact that the use of groundwater in places like Lusaka has increased and there is need to regulate groundwater usage through the monitoring and control of boreholes and all other means of using groundwater.
It is important to note that excessive usage of groundwater has negative effects on the environment such as the lowering of the water table and land substance which is as a result of the loss of support below the ground due to less water.
In most of the high density residential areas of Lusaka, boreholes are being drilled without much analysis on the environment and the surrounding objects disregarding environmental and health standards.
In the situation we are faced with today on the increased drilling of boreholes in the country, more especially in urban areas, the question arises, what should the Government do?
In economics, it is rare to be unanimous on what the Government must do at a particular time and this is what makes economics different and interesting, unlike other fields, as economists agree to disagree on policy matters.
There are different ways Government uses to intervene in the economy and the main ways are: price mechanisms, regulations and provision of goods and services. Taxation is one of the ways that Government uses in order to intervene in the economy through price mechanisms.
In response to the current situation, Government, through the Ministry of Water Development, Sanitation and Environmental Protection, issued three statutory instruments (SIs) on groundwater and boreholes, licensing of drillers and the revised raw water fees and charges. These SIs have been met with opposition from some sections of society suggesting that they are not good for our society and are going to be a burden to the people.
The notable objections to the SIs are that Zambians are already burdened with a lot of taxes, water utility companies have failed to provide water and citizens have taken the initiative to help themselves through drilling boreholes. Apart from these reasons, there has been nothing much that has been said by those opposed to the move to regulate the use of groundwater.
Our time must be focused on how we can collectively resolve the water challenges our country faces without halting the implementation of the SIs that are environmentally friendly.
It is therefore not right to conclude that the regulations on boreholes and groundwater was only a channel to swindle citizens and therefore must be halted without a thorough analysis on the matter. Our focus must not only be on the money to be paid by those drilling boreholes and those who already have.
We must also look at the advantages of such a move. It must also be noted that in as much as the Government tries to find ways of resolving water challenges in the country, there is also need to preserve the water that we have and not act in negligence just because water utility companies have failed to adequately provide water to the population.
Our land will not be sustainable if it is not well managed, and it is the duty of all the citizens to contribute to the preservation of our environment and not just think about meeting today’s needs, forgetting that there will be people to live on this land after we are gone.
It might also be wrong to conclude that the SIs are a target of the poor who mostly live in rural areas as most people in those areas do not have the financial capacity to drill boreholes on every house and usually depend on communal boreholes and exceptions for such facilities in rural areas must be set.
The challenge of having many boreholes is an issue in urban areas where every household now wants to have a borehole. Most poor people cannot afford the fees for borehole drilling and depend on water from utility companies and the people who have boreholes are mostly those who can even pay the fees for having one. It is unfair to try and use the poor, who do not even have boreholes, as a cover for those who have in urban areas.
We must therefore ensure that Government uses the collected money from groundwater regulation in solving water challenges for everyone and preserving our environment at the same time.
In this way, Government will be playing a role of redistributing the resources of the country so that even those who are not in a position to drill boreholes and suffer the consequences of the low water table will be compensated as Government provides services from the money collected under the regulation of groundwater.
The author is an economist.