NEWTON SIBANDA, Lusaka
GROUNDWATER resource underlying Lusaka is of critical importance, providing more than half of the city’s current water needs.
The downside is that this all important resource is also highly vulnerable to contamination from inadequate sewerage provision and solid waste collection, industrial pollution and poorly planned development.
Together with unregulated exploitation, this threatens the sustainability of the resource and the well-being of Lusaka’s residents and its economy.
Lusaka’s sprawling George and Kanyama townships illuminate the severity of the problem, where a lack of planning, inadequate water supply and sanitation services and poor solid waste management degrade groundwater resources, with a severe toll on the health and livelihoods of residents.
Through a programme of action research, the Fair Water Futures team, with the implementing partner Action for Water, has collaborated with community representatives from Neighbourhood Health Committees in George and Kanyama to understand the water security challenges they face, and to take action by calling on duty bearers to fulfil their institutional mandates and address their water challenges.
Fair Water Futures is a Water Witness International programme to scale up the charity’s social accountability monitoring work and improve water security for over half a million vulnerable people in Tanzania and Zambia. Water Witness International is an international charity whose mission is to carry out research, take action and advocate for better water resource management.
Lusaka lies on a plateau of mainly dolomitic marbles and fractured karstic rocks which support a highly productive and extensively used aquifer system which is of great strategic importance to the region.
However, the aquifer is also highly vulnerable to contamination because the water moves quickly through large fractures in the rock and is not subjected to a filtering process.
George and Kanyama are legalised but largely unplanned settlements in Lusaka, which are located in an area where groundwater resources are extremely vulnerable to contamination.
Across most of Lusaka’s peri-urban areas, sanitation takes the form of simple pit-latrines. Combined with leaking sewerage, these discharge untreated human sewage directly into the aquifer which residents rely on for drinking water.
Together with pollution from industrial and commercial activity, this severely degrades groundwater quality.
Under the Local Government Act, the Lusaka City Council (LCC) has the duty to control developments and the use of land in the interest of public health and safety, and to take measures to prevent the pollution of water supplies.
The majority of George and Kanyama residents do not have piped water in their homes. They rely on water provided by the Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company (LWSC) and Kanyama Water Trust (KWT) through water kiosks and communal taps.
However, the number of kiosks and taps are inadequate. The amount of water supplied is also inadequate. It is estimated that KWT only provides 10.6 litres per person per day, in contrast to the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended 20 litres per person per day as the minimum water requirement in order to meet basic health and hygiene needs.
Catherine Namfukwe Mulenga, 29, a housewife and marketeer of Kanyama, recounts the challenges of access to clean water.
“I wake up at 04:00 hours to draw water and come to the market because after 05:00 hours, you can’t find water, all at the risk of either being killed or raped,” Mrs Mulenga said.
A survey conducted in 2015 by LWSC found that 70 percent of respondents in George township received only 1-4 hours of water supply a day, compared to their 12-hour target.
Residents are thus forced to travel long distances, and wait in long queues to collect water. It is the women and children who bear the brunt of this burden. The time wasted collecting water eats into income-generating activities and school attendance.
Even when water is available, some residents are unable to afford the tariff, forcing them to seek water of inferior quality from private boreholes, and unprotected sources such as shallow wells.
In some areas of Kanyama, there are up to five times more shallow wells than water kiosks, and 40 percent of the population uses shallow wells for drinking water, according to the Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP),-a not-for-profit organisation whose mission is to improve access to water, sanitation, and associated health benefits through multi-sector, stakeholder engagement.
The Water Supply and Sanitation Act requires water supply and sanitation utilities to provide efficient and sustainable water supply and sanitation services.
However, Lusaka’s peri-urban areas lack a sustainable sanitation system. In Kanyama, for example, 95 percent of residents rely on pit-latrines, which are the most significant source of ground water contamination.
Studies of ground water quality in Kanyama show widespread contamination of boreholes, public taps and shallow wells.
In George township, a gap analysis by international charity Village Water found that pit-latrines are the most common sanitation facility, with over 4,000 pit-latrines found in Lima ward alone.
Sampling of water from KWT and LWSC boreholes in Kanyama found that nitrate concentrations frequently exceed Zambia Bureau of Standards (ZABS) and WHO drinking water standards. High nitrate levels are an indicator of faecal contamination of the water supply, and can cause ‘blue baby’ syndrome, a potentially fatal disease in infants.
Due to inadequate and erratic supply, and problems of affordability, many residents use shallow wells as their main source of water.
Shallow wells in peri-urban areas surrounded by pit-latrines face severe and dangerous levels of water contamination by pathogenic – disease-causing – material. Studies carried out in George, Kanyama and elsewhere in Lusaka show high levels of contamination of groundwater by pit-latrines; water quality samples from shallow wells in Kanyama show levels of microbial contamination which vastly exceed ZABS drinking water standards.
The use of untreated water from shallow wells is a major contributory factor to high rates of water-borne diseases in George and Kanyama, including cholera, typhoid and diarrhoeal diseases.
Unfortunately, residents often have no option but to use shallow wells and place their health and their family’s health at risk. As 40-year-old Prisca Nalungwe of George attested:
“We have no choice but to use a shallow well whose water is dirty, though we frequently have stomach pains.”
Kanyama suffers from recurring outbreaks of cholera, and studies have demonstrated that the prevalence is directly linked to the contamination of shallow water wells.
While utilities such as LWSC are required to provide efficient and sustainable sanitation services, the provision of sanitation services has lagged far behind water supply.
As of last year, only 17.1 percent of the population in LWSC’s service area was connected to the sewer network.
Local authorities are responsible for solid waste collection and disposal. However, solid waste management in Lusaka is severely limited and sporadic. It is estimated that Lusaka produces 765 tonnes of solid waste, of which only 10 percent is collected and properly disposed.