ANGELA CHISHIMBA, Lusaka
IT IS approximately 5.30 in the morning. Sandra Phiri, 11, does not need candle light.
The small bedroom she shares with her four little siblings is lit enough because December is summer and Zambia is experiencing short nights. Morning chores are routine for Sandra. With no strict instructions coming from her aunt, she lifts a corroded water container, several times larger than the size of her small head. Sandra lives in the sprawling Mandevu township where the sight of tap water is scarce. Every morning Sandra negotiates her way across the broad six-lane Great North Road to get to the western side of the highway where Total Filling Station accords her the opportunity to draw water. Just like it is dangerous for a village child to walk a lonely path in the midst of wild animals to draw water from the river, it is dangerous to cross the Great North Road to draw water because of long convoys of giant trucks and trailers that traverse the highway every day. But Sandra has to do every day. Coming back home can be a massive challenge because of the weight of the water. She nevertheless returns home safely, the whole body soaked in splashes of water. She arrives home in time to get a bucket of fritters which she sells on the roadside. School does not exist in Sandra’s world. Her destiny in the coming tough economic years is already decided.
But Sandra is not alone. Many other children and women in the densely-populated areas of Lusaka walk distances to fetch water. Some lucky residents are served by communal boreholes, while others negotiate with fortunate neighbours who can afford boreholes, still others dig deep wells.
Gift Mulando is a mother of two in George Township in Lusaka. Her day starts at 03.00 AM, queueing up at a communal tap, thanks to the Government of Japan project to supply water to satellite areas of Lusaka. There are tap leaders whose job is to oversee the use of water by fellow residents. The taps are supplied with water from a borehole source.
The water supply only happens in the morning. Each household is allotted 200 litres of water per day. Gift and other residents pay K30 a month for the water. On days when there is no water supply, she has to go to privileged families who charge K1 a 20-litre container.
“This is expensive for us of course, so when there is no water from communal taps, it is very difficult for us,” she moaned.
Tap leader Lister Mwila, an elderly woman, says her duty is to ensure there is a limit to water allotted to a resident and each family has to wash clothes once a week.
“We do not allow children under 15 to draw water,” she adds.
Water-borne diseases such as cholera and dysentery have not spared these unfortunate citizens and last year’s devastating cholera epidemic stood out as it left quite a number of residents deceased. George township was one of the ravaged areas and considering the lack of drainage and hygiene witnessed during the interview, one can only pray that there is no repeat.
The dire situation that the residents find themselves in was a destiny that was spelt out several years ago when unplanned settlements were allowed to fester nonchalantly as policies in the UNIP Government such as ‘Go back to the land’ fell on deaf ears. The Zambian hit song “Unga ende ku Munzi so” may have been sung recently but it rings true even for the 70s, 80s, 90s when it was little heard of that someone could retire and go to the village. And therefore, the population of Lusaka grew and grew and no-one cared to look at amenities like water supply.
Residents used whatever they could lay their hands on to put together structures they referred to as houses. If that was the case, could anyone expect the council and water companies to provide water to such areas? No. Whereas, the electricity monopoly, Zesco, has done wonders to supply power in most of these disadvantaged areas, it has not been the same with water. Hence the situation Sandra and thousands others find themselves in.
According to the Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company, apart from unplanned settlements, the increase in demand for water in townships is due to the increased population in Lusaka.
LWSC managing director Jonathan Kampata, during a recent press briefing, said the water utility company has signed a US$150,000 financing grant agreement with Zambian Breweries Plc to support the George Township Water Supply Scheme Project whose construction is scheduled to start next year (2019).
“Under this project, LWSC will sink boreholes and connect houses that are already receiving water to improve supply.
“We want to improve water supply in George. We do not want our people to experience any disease outbreak,” he said.
Mr Kampata said the current water supply scheme in George township was built for a population of 120,000 in 1993, but the population has increased fourfold to 400,000.
The water supply is only for 14 hours a day, a situation that has made the communities vulnerable to diseases.
Ministry of Water Permanent Secretary Ed Chomba says Government is not just looking at unplanned settlements, but has rolled out a plan for the whole Zambia dissected in three phases, urban, peri urban and rural.
The Zambian Government enacted the Water Resources Management Act number 21 of 2011 that stipulates that all waters in Zambia are vested in the President as a custodian on behalf of the Zambian people. This includes surface water, underground water and all rivers that are in Zambia. This means no one can use water any way they want except with permission from Government.
Dr Chomba emphasises: “It is very important to acknowledge that before the Act, Zambia operated under the 1959 Act which was older than Zambia itself and in that law, the highlight was that water is for social good but now we discovered that the private sector can also benefit.”
The permanent secretary adds that Zambia sits on the Zambezi basin, and that 48 percent of surface water in the SADC region is housed in Zambia, leaving 52 percent to be shared among 14 member states.
“Zambia is blessed. The Zambezi is the second largest basin, only smaller than the Congo,” he said.
SADC member states have started a project called Cross Border Water Supply and Sanitation, in which the SADC organ for sanitation and water supply will be disbursing money directly to contractors to improve water supply and sanitation along the border towns.
“We have started a project for Kazungula in Southern Province using Southern Water and Sewerage Company. DFID, the British organisation has done the same for the Mwami border in Eastern Province.
SADC is also embarking on another cross border project between Tanzania and Zambia using Tunduma, Mbeya and Nakonde. All these efforts are to ensure accessibility to water becomes a reality. If we continue, we are headed in the right direction,” he says.
Dr Chomba rolls out Government’s strategy to ensure that water becomes available to all Zambians: “For that little girl in Kanyama or Kalingalinga, who is a fourth grader or fifth grader, for her to become somebody in life, she does not
only need to do good homework and go to school, she needs clean water, clean bedding, clean food and clean surroundings, and water is an enabler that makes her do that hence the Government’s priority to make sure that people now have got access to clean and safe water within the shortest proximity of where they live,” he says.
According to Mr Chomba, Kanyama, a cholera epicentre last year, will have its 190,000 households with tap water.
“Eighty percent of the works have been done by the contractor, China Civil.
“We are doing the same for Chipata, Jack and Kuku townships,” he says.
About unplanned settlements, Government has concluded a project called Kafue Bulk water project.
“Lusaka doesn’t have water, we get it 45 kilometres away from Kafue. The project is worth US$150 million and we are about 98 percent done. But we have not just brought the water from Kafue to Lusaka, we shall give the same water to the people in Chilanga, Kafue and selected areas where the pipe will pass,” he promises.
A ground-breaking ceremony for the US$500 million Kafulafuta Water Project in Masaiti, Copperbelt, was held. A dam is now under construction to supply water to Masaiti, Kafulafuta, Luanshya and Ndola on the Copperbelt. The project covers rural areas, peri urban areas and urban areas.
“We have just concluded a loan agreement with the Africa Development Bank for US$150 million shared equitably among three commercial utilities, Chambeshi, Luapula and Western Water and Sewerage companies to ensure our people have access to clean and safe water, Dr Chomba says.
For rural areas, Dr Chomba narrated, Government has embarked on the construction of 2,800 boreholes.
The works are under way for all the provinces except Lusaka.
“We cannot make our mothers walk one kilometre to pump water, instead we drill a borehole which is commercial and we do a network, per 50 houses. We have two or three taps in the village so that people can access water, in that way, it shortens the distance and the time our mothers and young girls spend drawing water because we are bringing it to their door steps,” Dr Chomba says.
According to Dr Chomba, the aforementioned are some of the measures that Government has put in place for people to access clean and fresh water.
The permanent secretary states that President Edgar Lungu has guided that Government cannot only think of water supply, but provide proper sanitation.
“So the two will go hand in hand, wherever we have water supply, we are adding a component of sanitation. We have done it on the Kaputa Project, we are doing it in Lusaka. We have done it in Western Province, we are doing it in North- Western Province and Muchinga, as well as Northern Province,” he says.
According to the SADC Policy on Water, over 250 million people in the region depend on water resources in meeting the basic needs including domestic, industrial and agricultural requirements and for sanitation and waste management.
“Over 70 percent of the SADC region’s fresh water resources are shared between two or more Member States, a situation that has been the basis for the development and adoption of a series of regional instruments to support the joint management and development of shared water courses,” the Policy states.
The SADC instruments for water cooperation include the Regional Water Policy adopted in 2005; the Regional Water Strategy adopted in 2006 and the Regional Strategic Action Plan on Integrated Water Resources and Development Management which was first approved by SADC Summit in August 1998 to run in five-year phases.
Within the SADC Secretariat, responsibility for increasing and facilitating cooperation in water lies with the Water Division.
The Policy states: “Water shall be considered as a social good that is essential to human dignity, poverty reduction and social well-being. In addition to being an economic good, water supports life and a range of social services. Therefore, allocation and access to water must consider the social benefit to people and the environment. However, there should be explicit recognition that the poor should have access to water at a price they can afford, based on subsidies directly targeted to the poor.”
It adds that in about half of the SADC countries, access to safe water supply in the rural areas is less than 50%, but relatively higher in urban areas.
“The health and socio-economic implications are enormous in terms of mortality and sickness from waterborne diseases, children kept out of school, and women deprived of time for productive pursuits due to daily drudgery of fetching water and caring for sick family members,” it states.
The Policy advises that member State governments need to be cognisant of their national (local) and regional responsibilities and reminds states that as members of the UN, they have made commitments to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, which include, for water supply, reducing by 50%, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water.
How is Zambia fairing in that regard?
According to Dr Chomba, Government has rolled out agenda 2030 that talks about everybody having access to clean and safe water by the year 2030.
“Government, in an effort to make sure that unserviced areas have provisions of service, has now made water supply and sanitation a priority in the Seventh National Development Plan,” he said.
Dr Chomba adds that water supply and sanitation is an important part of development and that it is always budgeted for. He says cooperating partners equally fund water development. He calls on the private sector to equally invest in water.
SDG Number Six states that water which is clean and safe is an enabler to social economic development, while Agenda 2030 states that every individual should have access to clean and safe water by the year 2030.
As Dr Chomba puts it; water supply and sanitation is an important enabler for Zambia’s development.
“Government has taken to heart SDG Number Six which states that clean and safe water is an enabler for social economic development,” he says.
That should be music to the ears of Sandra Phiri, Gift Mulando, Lister Mwila and many underprivileged people of Zambian townships that lack water supply. For them, water is everything and lack of it means perpetual deprivation.
The commitment from the Zambian Government to supply clean and safe water to all citizens by the year 2030, as espoused by Dr Chomba, means Government committing millions of Kwacha in water supply which should see water sources spring up in townships. The implementation of that commitment should start now, 11 years before 2030, and not a year before.
ANGELA CHISHIMBA, Lusaka