Raw deal for rural masses

webnexttech | Raw deal for rural masses

Water experts have faulted members of Parliament (MPs) for subjecting the rural poor to social injustice by continuing to drill new ‘substandard’ boreholes mostly in places they are not needed instead of fixing broken ones. In an interview last week, Baseflow team leader Muthi Nhlema said what some MPs are doing by prioritising drilling new boreholes instead of fixing broken ones is a mockery to the rural poor who are then forced to draw water from unsafe sources. Between March 2022 and August last year, the country registered 58 979 cholera cases and 1 768 deaths. Cholera is spread by eating food or drinking water contaminated by faeces of an infected person. It occurs more in places lacking proper water supplies and sewage disposal. The observations from Nhlema come against the background that 41 percent of the country’s 60 000 boreholes are either partially functional or have hardly worked since they were drilled despite government’s introduction of a borehole fund in the 2017/18 financial year. Under the fund, each of the 193 constituencies receives K12 million, translating to about K2.3 billion annually for borehole purposes. But data from the Department of Water in the Ministry of Water and Sanitation show that the average functionality rate of the 60 000 boreholes in the country’s 28 districts, stands at 58.5 percent, meaning that 41.5 percent of the boreholes are not functional. Nhlema argues that there is need to divert the funds to fix or maintain what already exists instead of drilling new boreholes just to score political mileage. He also stated that a good number of boreholes are being installed without resorting to or involvement of technocrats and technical information, hence the high numbers of non-functioning boreholes. For instance, Nhlema disclosed that his water sector NGO conducted more than 320 pumping tests across the country in January, this year, to assess if the water points provide water for the communities but 29 percent of them failed the test. He said: “We are drilling boreholes that are failing and giving them to the poor and the political elite will stand on the podium and say look at something good I have done for you. “Even the new boreholes are not being installed according to standard; drillers are drilling without supervision by a qualified hydrologist and they do not drill according to national standard. Some of the drillers are not registered with or vetted by the National Water Resources Authority.” He suggested the introduction of a by-law that any allocation of the borehole fund must be based on data and not the whim or decision of one person or a group, saying such information is readily available at Malawi Water Asset Management Information Systems (Mwamis). On his part, University of Malawi water expert Evance Mwathunga blamed the problem on district councils’ lack of capacity to monitor construction of boreholes. In an interview last week, he said politicisation of the construction and allocation of boreholes was another factor. Said Mwathunga: “Someone would want it constructed near the chief’s house or an area where they have some interest; politicians do it so do NGOs.” The Malawi Rural Water Supply Investment Plan (2014-2020) estimates that if government rehabilitated about 5 000 malfunctioning boreholes, at least one million people would have safe water. This means a significant population is denied safe water, thereby threatening Malawi’s strides to achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number six as set by the United Nations to ensure universal, equitable and affordable access to safe water by 2030. Weekend Nation last week engaged some MPs. Blantyre City South East lawmaker Sameer Suleman said most urban constituencies don’t need boreholes but water kiosks since underground water is contaminated. However, he observed that most kiosks are not functioning hence the demand for new boreholes. Said Suleman: “MPs have to balance the needs of the constituents and politics because when you drill a new borehole you score more political mileage than when you fix a broken one.” Lilongwe City South MP Peter Dimba said he always uses the borehole funds for drilling new boreholes because the need in his rural area is so high that last year he even used part of the Constituency Development Fund to fix about 30 non-functioning boreholes. He said: “So the concern for drilling boreholes where they are not needed does not apply in my case because the demand for clean water is too high.” Mangochi South MP Lilian Patel, in an interview, said there are a few broken boreholes in her constituency after Pacific Group Company fixed most of them and the demand now is for new ones. Commenting on the issue last week, Malawi Local Government Association (Malga) executive director Hadrod Mkandawire observed that the borehole fund has no specific guidelines, hence the non-uniformity in the disbursement and utilisation of the fund. According to him, either the water office is not providing sound technical advice to MPs or the lawmakers are not liaising with the officers for technical guidance.. Said Mkandawire: “Rumphi District Council is a model in the utilisation of the fund because all four MPs in the district agreed that in one financial year funds allocated should be collapsed into one basket to work on water projects for a particular constituency and after that, move to another constituency.” National Water Resources Authority spokesperson Masozi Kasambala said in a WhatsApp response yesterday that his organisation is encouraging people to seek authorisation from the authority before undertaking any water-related development work in the country. “This is necessary because it will enable the would-be beneficiaries to get expert advice. The focus must not just be access to water resources but access to water resources that meet minimum acceptable standards,” he said. In the 2019/20 Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (Wash) Budget Brief, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) also urged government to refocus investment in Wash to ensure a balance between the creation of new water infrastructure and related operations as well as maintenance costs. Reads the brief: “Field visits during a Wash public expenditure review [PER] conducted in 2019 revealed that there is little involvement of the district water development officer [DWDO] in the spending decisions.”

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