Deputy Minister Bande leads by example that cholera prevention is through hygiene such as handwashing
* Many kiosks managed by Water Users Associations (WUA), are not functional
* Because of poor management, vandalism and theft of meters as well as low water supply pressure
By Duncan Mlanjira
Water & Sanitation Deputy Minister, John Bande has advised Blantyre Water Board (BWB) to take stronger action over abuse of management of water kiosks in the district’s low income areas for maximum access to piped water in the wake of increased cases of cholera.
He said this on Tuesday at BWB head office where he visited to assess water supply situation amidst the cholera outbreak, which surged in the city of Blantyre at the beginning of this new year.
He was briefed by BWB management — in presence of Board chairperson, Joe Ching’ani and two other directors — that many kiosks managed by its stakeholders, Water Users Associations (WUA), are not functional because of poor management, vandalism and theft of meters as well as low water supply pressure.
The management — led by Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Robert Hanjahanja — assured the Deputy Minister that remedies have and are still been taken to make sure that stronger water supply pressure is maintained for all areas of the city for all of the 860 kiosks to be operational.
Amongst other challenges, many kiosks in the city have been highjacked from their respective WUAs by either the landlords or the sellers themselves due to what was justified as low sales and low salaries for the sellers.
Bande was also told that some managers of kiosks dismantled meters and kept them custody in their homes — together with prepaid gadgets for tokens — despite BWB management’s efforts to recover their own property.
Of the 860 kiosks, 432 are on prepaid meters but several of them have not been operational due to huge bills which were migrated from the post-paid system, whose percentages were being deducted every time the kiosk managers loaded funds into the prepaid meters.
As an intervention in support of the efforts in the fight against cholera, which has claimed many lives from the beginning of this year, BWB put on holiday prepayment of arrears, which is at K82 million, and that all disconnected kiosk were reconnected.
As soon as new cases started rising at an alarming rate, the government directed the delay of opening of primary and secondary schools on January 2 in Blantyre and Lilongwe for the authorities to set up some sanitation and hygiene safety measures.
The schools have since reopened on Tuesday, January 17 for the second term and BWB management told the Deputy Minister that the schools whose water supply were disconnected due to bill arrears have since been reconnected after negotiating how they would proceed in repaying through installments.
Management has also proposed to government if BWB could take over paying salaries of the staff at the kiosks, some of whom were not effective enough to man the kiosks due to dissatisfaction of their low pay and they were resorting to seeking income elsewhere.
These would be for the 432 that are on prepaid meters and suggestion is to pay at least K50,000 a month as an incentive, which translate into wage bill of K43 million a month to be borne by BWB.
More water bowsers trucks have been deployed in cholera hotspot low income areas while meters that were vandalized, stolen and got stuck will be maintained or replaced with speed.
BWB has also donated chroline to Blantyre District Health Office (DHO) and the City Council to be distributed to hotspot areas — to which Bande advised that it should go together with proper civic education on chlorine usage.
An extra gear has also been engaged in discussions with WUAs for effective management of the kiosks to make sure all compromised kiosks are functional — to which the Deputy Minister implored on BWB management to seriously follow legal processes to recover rather than just diplomatic negotiations.
Bande was incredulous that some kiosk management could confiscate BWB property and keep it as ransom in their homes for a long time without the Board seeking legal remedies but just negotiations.
He took note that most members of WUA have overstayed their mandate, thus being so arrogant to the point of confiscating BWB equipment. He advised that there was need for fresh elections in WUAs whose members are due to be replaced as per governance mandate.
Bande was also taken on a tour, first in the water testing laboratory at the head office, where he was assured that all safety measures — as prescribed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS) — are followed to the book to ensure that their water supply is safe to all outlets.
Bande was also afforded a tour of kiosks at Matope in Ndirande township, which is an exemplary area where all its kiosks are operational and he also visited Makhetha in Blantyre City East — of which he is Member of Parliament (MP).
At Makhetha, Bande assured the people — who had gathered as soon as they saw the huge entourage of cars — that water supply would normalize as BWB is working around the clock on the matter, whose challenges are mostly due to low power supply for highland areas.
He said this after some members of the gathering had bemoaned of no water supply in recent times in most of their kiosks.
The Deputy Minister also toured BWB Nguludi pumping station, whose water supply is from Mulanje — which some members of society sneered at saying it was a white elephant believing it was not functional.
But the Station is in full swing pumping in and having its water tested by its on-spot laboratory and the Deputy Minister was assured that it has been the most reliable source of supply for the whole city in recent times.
CEO Hanjahanja assured Bande and the city residents that plans are at an advanced stage to build BWB’s own solar plants at pumping stations to address power challenges as well as high bills incurred from Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM).
In his remarks, Bande also assured the general public that BWB is supplying clean water and implored on the people to desist from getting their water from unsafe sources.
He also asked BWB and its stakeholders, such as Blantyre DHO and the City Council, to continue with civic education on hygiene and sanitation as they distribute the chlorine, saying a hygienic society cannot be prone to cholera.
He implored on the City Council on proper sanitation and waste management in markets, which are also suspect of spreading various waterborne diseases, including cholera.
Ching’ani — who is newly-appointed Board chairperson — took cognizance that water is key in the fight against further spread of cholera and assured Bande and the general public that since their appointment, they have come to appreciate the services that BWB provides, also attesting that its water is safe as prescribed by WHO and MBS.
Just last week, the newly-appointed Board of Directors were also taken on a tour of BWB establishments to familiarize themselves with its systems and operations at Walker’s Ferry intake & treatment plant; Likhubula intake, Nguludi treatment plant and pumping station, Chileka pumping station and Mudi Dam’s treatment plant & pumping station.
Ching’ani is quoted as applauding BWB management for their tireless efforts and commitment to ensure availability of water supply to residents of Blantyre, adding: “We now are aware of the sleepless nights you spend to make sure that all systems are up and running.