Closing water access inequality with investments

 Closing water access inequality with investments

Closing water access inequality with investments.

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Malawi requires huge infrastructure and services investments if it is to close the existing water and sanitation inequality gap that continues to leave the poor more poorer, especially in Lilongwe, the country’s capital city.

Despite government claiming that it met the MDG target for water with 86.2 percent of the population having access to safe water, there is a recognition that cities are facing a widening infrastructure gap. UNHIDE-INHAbIT studies into the water sector in Lilongwe discovered that meeting the MDG target may show theoretical access to water but it actually fails to say anything about inequalities.

The conspicous absence of infrastructure and services in high-density, low income areas where the nation’s rapid informal urban growth is concentrated, increases the vulnerability of both poor households and communities.

Swedishbased researcher for Uppsala University, Maria Rusca notes that water supply and sanitation, as well as urban infrastructure in Lilongwe city’s low income areas though served by the formal water utility body, the Lilongwe Water Board (LWB), through a system of water kiosks, managed by Water User Associations (WUAs), are very precarious.

Apart from the the irregular and expensive kiosk water supply, residents also access water from wells, boreholes and rainwater for their everyday consumption and hygiene practices,“ she observes and also points out that people living the the capital city’s low income areas pay dearly to access clean water than their counterparts in high income areas.

“The price of water in the city, provided by the LWB, has over the years evolved into three types of tariffs. The first tariff is for water sold directly to customers connected to consume the commodity. The second is for the bulk water sold to Water Users Associations (WUAs), and the last one is the kiosk tariff, which accounts for the costs of operating the WUAs, community based organisations contracted by the water utility to sell water and collect revenue at the kiosks,” she says.

A closer look at the tariff set by the Government in coordination with LWB reveals that the first tariff of the consumption of connected customers has consistently been three times lower than the final kiosk tariff set in the negotiation process between LWB and WUAs.

As such, Rusca further notes that the irregular water supply in low income areas also influence consumers’ practices to access clean water as they have to design means of water storage.

”The intermittent supply of water by the LWB coupled with the walking distances to kiosks prompt consumers to store water for use during cut-offs and also to save the time spent fetching the water,“ she says adding: ”Residents walk with uncovered pails from the kiosks or wells which increases chances of water microbial contamination“.

Microbial contamination of water supplies represents a major risk for human health, since it can be a vector for the transmission of pathogenic diseases.

Charles Mkula

Charles Mkula has over 15 years of working as a Malawian newsroom news reporter and editor as well as a freelance journalist for a number of international news outlets, Charles Mkula has worked as a Public Relations Officer for a Malawi/Germany urban development project. He co-founded Hyphen Media Institute, a platform for sharing information generated from policy debate and advocacy activities. Charles likes reading, writing, traveling, exercises, making friends, listening to music, watching TV, documentaries and cartoons.

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