Communities under Village Headman Mwanyama and surrounding villages in Mangochi, are appealing to the authorities to consider their plight on accessing portable water when making a decision on the future of the Southern Region Water Board-SRWB portable water supply project.
This follows the continued disagreements between environmentalists and communities around Nkhudzi Hill over the SRWB portable water supply project in the lakeshore district.
Despite the people’s dire need for clean water, environmentalists and other concerned citizens fear that the construction of a water supply system will strip Lake Malawi National Park off its world heritage status.
In an effort to increase water supply in what are deemed as undeserved areas, SRWB embarked of a multimillion kwacha project to extend their water supply in Mangochi district.
The project entails tapping water from the fresh mass of Lake Malawi and supply to about 92 000 households within the lakeshore district.
It is an Engineering Procurement Contract funded by the Kuwait Fund to the tune of 14 .4 million dollars, and is expected to create 500 jobs.
The SRWB is expected to be pumping 3.400 cubic liters of water a day once the projected is implemented.
However, the water project was halted in its tracks as environmentalists and other concerned citizens complained that the project tampers with a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Razer Sacranie of Lake Shepherd, representing the international community demanded the project to stop until a proper Environmental and Social Impact Assessment- ESIA was done.
“We have no problem with people having piped water, if they can afford it, what we don’t want that Malawi loses something else that might have great value in future in this case we are concerned about tourism and heritage,” Sacranie said.
He went on to suggest that the SRWB can plant the water tank on any of the other hills 4 kilometers away from Nkhudzi.
Owing to such concerns, the Malawi Environmental Protection Authority-MEPA team and the Ministry of Natural Resources recommended a review of the ESIA to ensure it addresses the concerns raised.
Following the recommendations which included the inclusion of an assessment on the cultural heritage impact as well as the one wildlife, SRWB made available funds to the Museum and Monuments departments to do their assessment whose findings were to include in the reviewed-ESIA.
Following completion of the process, a consultant on the main assessment compiled another report which was handed to MEPA, leading to public hearings to get further input for determination of extension of the water project.
“The very initial submission, there were some gaps for example the issue of the cultural heritage impact assessment and also the impact on Lake Malawi National Park as a world heritage site, those were not really adequately looked at, but now they have been taken on board,” said the Acting Director of MEPA Tawonga Luka Mbale.
Following the submission of the report, SRWB is confident that it will be able to get the much need reconsideration from the authorities.
Board Chairman of the SRWB Ibrahim Matola has stressed on the need for portable water by people of Mangochi especially those within Village Headman Mwanyama’s area.
The revised report is still getting resistance from the likes of the Sacranie and his international community.
The other organizations against the project include the Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy-CEPA, Coordination Union for the Rehabilitation of the Environment-CURE, Lake Shepherd, CISONECC and Movement for Environmental Action.
The organisations recently released a statement rejecting the revised Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA )report.
But the Deputy Director of Museums and Monuments Potiphar Kaliba has revealed that such sites are open to development activities on condition that laws on their protection are followed.
Group Village Headman Mwanyama from where the project is set to take place, believes the water project addresses the plight of people in his area, saying the World Heritage accolade does not directly benefit them.
“I want to tell Malawians that we are not happy with these tour operators that they are going to the world without asking what we want as local communities, what we need is fresh portable and safe water which they are busy denying us in the name of saving our heritage,”Mwanyama.
The Group Village Headman went on to add “most of them use bottled water and have been doing that for years we can’t even drill boreholes because the water here is very salty. Who are they to worry about our heritage, I the chief here and my people are custodians of the cultural heritage of this place not them”.
Adding on to what Mwanyama said, the Senior Chief Nankumba of the area has threatened to chase the cottage owners and tour operators that are opposing the water supply project should they continue to stand in the way of the water development.
After the hearing sessions, Mbale, the MEPA Acting Director indicates that what is coming out prominently is that the people in the area need portable water supply.
But she was quick to point out that as environmental protection authority; they still have to weigh the impacts on the environment to other related aspects.
Parliament has since vowed to push for the implementation of the multi-billion kwacha Project, claiming its benefits out weight the purported environmental impact.
“As parliament we never reject water issues and as such we will produce a report supporting the ESIA report for implementation of the water supply extension project,” Chairperson of the parliamentary Committee of Environment and Natural Resources Werani Chilenga has assured.
According to the United Nations, Worldwide, 1 in 3 people do not have access to safe drinking water, 2 out of 5 people do not have a basic hand-washing facility with soap and water, and more than 673 million people still practice open defecation.
The United Nations Sustainable development goal number 6 calls for access to clean water and sanitation for all, which includes the people of Mangochi and Nkhudzi Bay.