Rainy season; best time, waste time for water companies

LOUIS Mwape.

THEY say each moment of the season has its own beauty; and apparently that legendary expression holds true in every sense even in the water and sanitation circles. The rainy season is here and part of what makes it interesting for any water company I know of in Zambia, is that it comes with its own paradoxical effect of being both a blessing and a challenge.
For starters, it comes as a blessing because it impacts positively on both underground and surface water sources and water. At its peak, water yields are stable and most companies have significant amounts of water to harvest and supply drastically improves. At least that has been a recurring experience for some time now.
Conversely, the rainy season comes as a challenge because water companies have to try and grapple with issues beyond their control such as high levels of water turbidity, frequent power interruptions and consequently disruptions in service delivery, as well as excessive sewer blockages. Sewer blockages are mostly as a result of high levels of infiltration from stormy waters seeping into the system among other things.
For most if not all local water companies I know of, the rainy season is actually the best and waste time for commercial utilities. And if there is a complete silver bullet to such challenges, at the moment it does not seem anyone has quite found it yet. But that does not mean there is no solution to some challenges.
In as much as other issues that as turbidity levels remain beyond the control of many water companies in Zambia, for context, it is also important to understand that there are also other challenges that are within the control of both companies and customers. Those are the challenges I wish to dwell on, and that point brings me to the issue of sewer blockages for instance. Such are challenges that heavily manifest themselves in the rainy season.
Sewer blockages and floods generate so many complaints and commotion but the ugly truth is that they are a problem that to a large extent self-induced and the solution lies within the customers and the service providers.
If anyone of us today drives around town after a heavy down pour wherever they could be they would discover one thing; garbage ranging from tins, plastics, sucks, clothes and a myriad of filth that has been swept by the rains lying either on the road or by the way side.
It is that same waste that ends up into the sewer systems and eventually choking them to a point where sewer floods become inevitable. Such problems are still prevalent in our country and they can only end when there is a massive shift in the mind-set of our citizenry.
Given those realities, perhaps the Keep Zambia Clean, Green and Healthy Campaign are a point of departure to make such kind of behavioural change programs a success. I spoke to a customer recently, in part to solicit reactions to the Keep Zambia Clean Campaign, and in the course of our conversation, he touched on a couple of matters relating to cleanliness in general and how it is essential even to the provision of water and sanitation services.
That customer explained that in Japan for instance, there is definitely a prevailing idea that clean is good. School syllabuses have included aspects of sanitation and hygiene and people grow up buying into such progressive ideas. Children are always taught to take responsibility of their own trash without expecting anyone else to.
At times, especially during such a time as this, sewer floods are as a result of vandalism and commercial utilities have to stand up high against that tide.
Most iron cast manhole covers for instance have either been stolen or vandalised. Those are valuable facilities which urgently need to be replaced because such incidents leave a trail of exposed sewer systems, making them vulnerable to solid objects that choke them.
The challenge is that despite having lean budgets at times, commercial utilities have to grapple with the urgent after-effects of such developments. Not too long ago, Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company Limited (LWSC) fell- victim to thieves, who went about Matero Township stealing iron-cast man-hole, covers, with the aim of selling them as scrap metal.
The effects of exposed sewer networks are ugly; apart from posing a bane in terms of emitting stench, they are also a serious health hazard; a breeding ground for all sort water and air borne diseases.
Having experienced a similar ordeal mid this year, Lukanga Water and Sewerage Company Limited (LgWSC) had to spend over K550, 000 to procure at least 600 plastic manhole covers in order to replace stolen iron-cast covers.
The rationale behind procuring plastic man-hole covers was that they are not susceptible to being stolen or vandalised unlike the former.
In the water and sanitation circles, vandalism is often two-fold and water infrastructure has not been spared too.
Before vandalism cases get surreal and out of hand, it is important to realise that the issue is cross-cutting and both communities and commercial utilities must fully get involved. There is need for both parties to enhance interactions. Sensitisation campaigns through the media and community engagement meetings should be integrated into company communication strategies and effectively implementing if water companies are to escape vandalism.
Communities are key stakeholders in fending off vandalism because they are just as much affected as their service providers. Constant interactions between two parties could inculcate a sense of collective responsibility in taking care of water and sanitation infrastructure.
If we come to a place where everyone takes responsibility over public property such as water and sanitation infrastructure, and adopting zero tolerance to the indiscriminate disposal of waste, we will tremendously improve service provision in our communities and problems such as sewer floods will drastically reduce.
The author is communications officer at Lukanga Water and Sewerage Company Limited.

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