A multi-million kwacha water project in Karonga, otherwise known as Garnet Halliday Karonga Water Supply Project is quite unbelievable. Unbelievable because for a project that boasts uniqueness and has consumed K1.2billion, it looks like it has not extensively resolved other water accessibility problems in the district.
Paladin Africa Limited which is mining uranium in the district at a place called Kayelekera has committed to do a number of projects in the district and one of which is the provision of a modern water supply scheme.
Initially, the company announced it would provide a new water treatment plant and rehabilitate the old system by increasing booster points and replacing the piping system so that even those residents that live in hilly places can access the water without much ado.
However, on March 24, 2010 when Irrigation and Water Development Minister Mr. Richie Muheya made an advance visit to the district to appreciate the development surrounding the project before President Bingu wa Mutharika comes to officially commission it, only one thing was complete.
This is a state-of-art treatment plant system which apart from South Africa it is only found here in Malawi and not even in the Capital City Lilongwe, but in a poorly developed district of Karonga.
The technology used in this plant is what is known as the filter membrane system.
“This is the first of its kind in Malawi to be used in a normal domestic water supply system and also in SADC Region apart from South Africa,” acknowledged Muheya.
Paladin Africa Limited General Manager responsible for construction Mr. Jim Morgan said the water supply system can manage to provide 355 cubic meters of water per hour.
What this means, according to Northern Region Water Board (NRWB) engineers, is that 40,000-Karonga-population can easily be provided with water at anytime of the year without facing any low supplies.
The drawback to this lucrative project is the usage of the old distribution system.
The old system had distribution problem that was coming in two folds, one where the river from where the source was could not manage the demand and another where the old distribution system needed booster points that would ensure that everyone in the district could easily access water at any point of need.
However, for the project to be meaningful there is need for a complete overhaul for its distribution system.
The board’s engineers confided in Zodiak Online that the current system is like buying a truck engine and fitting it into body of a rundown pickup.
Perhaps government can take it up from where Paladin has stopped?
Mr. Muheya said although indeed government can do this, it will have to explore existing opportunities first. He says government will go back to Paladin to assist in the remaining phase.
“They have only been here for a year we hope this is not the last part of the assistance that they are giving and if ministry can talk to paladin and ask if they can assist us on other existing infrastructure like the water supply system, then this could work,” he said.
NRWB has been working in collaboration with Paladin during construction of the facility and will be managing the system.
NRWB Chief Executive Officer Mr.Titus Mtegha explained to Zodiak Online that the planning of the project was guided by a budget and jointly the community, paladin and board officials sat done to find the priorities.
“It transpired that the priority number one was to provide an intake, a pipeline, a treatment facility and a tank at Nyanja,” he said.
Mtegha explained that from this agreement Paladin was to provide these facilities and by the end of the project they were supposed to review and establish the resources remaining and then let the community decided what was needed next.
He however, played down the danger of coming up with such a state-of-art water plant that will be completely under utilised to failure to rehabilitate the distribution system.
“With the current system the water supply will still have enough water for the lower zone which is the zone supplying from Bwiba and also the high zone which supplied from Nyanja hill where we have tanks,” he said.
He however said if constraints will arise in terms of reaching out to people then as a board they will take that as a priority from their own resources to get water to even the highest points.
Paladin Africa Limited General Manager Responsible for construction Mr. Jim Morgan insisted that the money reserved for the project has been depleted and the responsibility to complete the project does not solely lay in their hands now.
“The project was built around a sum of money and we agreed with the community that the scope of the project was to fit within the available resources. As we worked through the project, the project was designed for the future and currently we no longer have any other resources left,” he said.
While everyone was jubilant on the prospects of having such a lucrative project, other people within the district were against some of the choices that were made in implementing the project.
Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP) of the Mzuzu Diocese told Zodiak Online then, that according to views from the people the intake choice would expose people to possible infections.
CCJP Social worker who is called an animator in their operation parlance Mr. Gift Malema said the choice of intake was at first the same one the board was using to supply water to the district but was abandoned because during flooding coffins would be seen floating closer to the source.
“We are totally against the lack of consultation employed by those implementing the project because we are against the intake point,” he was quoted as saying at the time.
Board Chair for the NRWB Mr. Wayson Mkochi remembered this reservation from CCJP and now he claims the project has proven them wrong.
“All the allegations can now be dismissed,” he challenged.
He said Paladin has put the intake a kilometre right inside the lake and the pipes have gone 6 metres deep and therefore Karonga will have the best water ever. In fact as certified this will be one of the cleanest water in the country,” he declared.
Well said indeed, however when nothing about the distribution aspect will be done then the project will prove meaningless to those who are supposed to benefit from it.
But since government and board have said they are watching the situation, it will be foolhardy to hope to work on the challenge on when constraints in accessing the best quality water in the country will be experienced.