Water contamination worries stakeholders
Published On November 5, 2015 » 3471 Views» By Davies M.M Chanda » Features
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Chalala is one of the new suburbs coming up in Lusaka.
Its beautiful houses fortified behind towering gates and concrete walls are a striking difference from its unbuilt roads that run through a rocky terrain.
The roads are a visible consequence of people having moved into the area before basic service lines were put in place.
The anomally, as far as water supply and sanitation is concerned, has developed into a problem that is quietly growing beneath the ground where effluent has polluted over 80 per cent of boreholes supplying water to the majority of households.
According to the National Water Supply and Sanitation Council (NWASCO), the contamination is due to interaction between water from the boreholes and discharge from sceptic tanks.
Nwasco Director Kelvin Chitumbo revealed in a recent interview that the pollution was discovered during an annual routine water sampling.
He said boreholes and sceptic tanks were interacting because they were built in close proximity, a problem thought to have been caused by lack of coordination between Lusaka City Council (LCC) and Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company (LWSC) regarding service provision.
“For instance, the delay to connect developers to the water and sewer systems is what forces developers to resort to boreholes for water supply and sceptic tanks for sewerage and this, in most cases, compromises the quality of water,” he said.
However, LWSC and LCC public relations personnel attributed the water contamination to what they termed reversal planning, meaning providing basic services like roads, water, sewer, power supply lines and other services after people have developed their pieces of land.
Ordinarily, areas designated for development are serviced with roads, power lines, water pipes, sewerage systems and drainage before people are allowed to start erecting buildings. This service is partly paid for by property developers who, by law, are required to pay service charge even before plans of their buildings are approved.
But this has not been the case in Chalala.
LWSC Public Relations Manger Topsy Sikalinda said Chalala was once an illegal settlement. As a result, the LWSC could not provide services in the area.
He said according to the law, service providers could not move into the area before it was legalised.
He said LWSC was only mandated to service a plot or connect a developer once the developer produced title deeds from the Ministry of Lands or an occupation licence from a local authority.
The LCC which applies the Town and Planning Act was equally bound by the law to only serve legal settlements.
LCC Assistant Public Relations Manager Brenda Katongola said Chalala was an illegal settlement until 2002. But by then, the population in the area had already grown significantly.
In any case, the LCC’s mandate was restricted to inspecting building plans of structures in order to ensure that people were placing septic tanks at a safe distance from boreholes and that the tanks were built to required specifications.
“People just bring plans and we approve them when we are satisfied that everything is according to set specifications. But when it comes to water, the people who handle that are LWSC,” she said.
Ms Katongola regretted that property developers, in some cases, do not follow the required specifications when it comes to the actual building of structures and hence the contamination of water in the boreholes.
She said there is need for public awareness to ensure people consuming contaminated water take appropriate measures to avoid losing lives while those setting up buildings adhere to specifications in their building plans.
She warned that water contamination in Chalala was a time bomb that would endanger many people’s lives.
Ms Katongola’s warning should not be taken lightly.
In 2010, Zambia experienced torrential rainfall which led to flooding.
The floods, coupled with poor sanitation, led to a deadly cholera outbreak which, by  March 24, 2010, affected over 2,500 people of which 41 died.
The worst affected townships were Chipata, Kanyama, Kamwala and Chawama where up to 130 new cases where being reported per day.
The outbreak was blamed on contaminated water from shallow wells which residents in affected townships consumed. The wells were built close to pit latrines that discharged effluent even before the 2010 rain reason started.
What happened in those townships has already started happening in Chalala.
However, Chalala is not the only area faced with the threat of water contamination.
Parts of Lusaka’s Chelsone and Avondale townships have gone for years, in some cases, without water to a point where  – as in the case of Chalala, people have resorted to boreholes and septic tanks.
Not only that, former Lusaka Provincial Local Government Officer Solomon Sakala expressed concern at the likelihood of contamination of surface and underground water in Ndola.
Mr Sakala, who also served in the same capacity on the Copperbelt, reported recently that Kafubu River and boreholes located in Minsundu are threatened by pollution due to encroachment.
“Kafubu Water and Sewerage Company (KWSC) has two water sources; the Kabufu River for surface water and the boreholes in Minsundu which provide underground water to the northern part of Ndola.
“But now the trend is that there are people building houses very close to the boreholes and these same people are building soakaways for sewerage, which means that very soon the underground water in Minsundu will be contaminated,” he said.
The former KWSC board member said people have also encroached onto the Kafubu River basin where they are cultivating vegetables and building houses on the river banks.
He expressed fear that the surface water would soon be contaminated while loosening soils and clearing the land in the area could lead to the drying up of Kabubu River in a matter of years.
“There are also some people who are blocking sewer lines with sand bags so that effluent could be used to water vegetable gardens, and this could further add to the pollution of Kafubu River,” he warned.
Discussing issues affecting the water sector on the Radio Phoenix talk show ‘Let the People Talk’ in Lusaka recently, Zambia Water Forum and Exhibition (ZAWAFE) Chairperson Imasiku Nyambe attributed lack of regulation in the use of underground water to an ommission in the Water Act.
Until 2011, the country relied on the Water Act of 1948 to regulate the use of water.
However, until 2011, the Act only regulated the use of surface water.
“What happened is that the private sector went for underground water because they knew that they did not have to pay for it whereas people needed a permit to get surface water,” Professor Nyambe said.
Professor Nyambe who is also University of Zambia (UNZA) Director for Post Graduate Studies said in the case of Chalala, Chelstone and Avondale, people have sunk dozens of boreholes as well as septic tanks in the same area without regard to dangers posed to both the quality of water as well as the aquifer.
“So many boreholes have been sunk without regard to the underground water level which is now being contaminated. That is where management of water resources come in because if this resource is not managed, we shall have none left,” he said.
The academician said as if sinking dozens of boreholes is not enough, some people were erecting buildings in natural water recharge areas for underground water while others were putting up concrete embarkments which prevent water from sinking into the ground.
He warned that such actions would lead to a depletion of the aquifer.
Nwasco Commercial and Financial Inspector Chola Mbilima urged people to be mindful that Zesco was not the only utility experiencing water shortage.
She said besides experiencing loadshedding, water utility companies in Lusaka, Ndola, Luapula and North Western Province were also faced with a serious water shortage.
She cited LWSC which depends on underground water from boreholes to supply between 50 and 60 per cent of Lusaka City.
“If you can remember LWSC last year shut down 50 per cent of its boreholes because of low water levels and they could have had the same problem this year had it not been for loadshedding which has prevented them from running their pumps at full capacity,” she said.
Additionally, the water utility companies were constrained with the rate at which new areas were being developed.
“Look at areas like New Avondale which is almost reaching Chongwe and Chelstone which is almost reaching Kenneth Kaunda International Airport; these areas are growing so fast that we require massive investment to provide water.
“In the case of Avondale, LWSC is working on a new line but this is very expensive and it is not going to be finished now; it will take some time,” Ms Mbilima said.
Water and Sanitation Association of Zambia (WASAZA) Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Phiri said time had come for the country to be proactive in dealing with issues relating to climate change so as to safeguard water and prevent its scarcity in future.
He said his association was advocating new technologies that would prevent surface and underground water contamination.
According to WASAZA, Decentralised Waste Water Treatment Systems (DIWATS) were the alternative technology to sceptic tanks or pit latrines.
“This technology is what we are promoting across the country and well over 60 digesters have been constructed in Zambia,” Mr Phiri said.
DIWATS not only safeguards the quality of underground water and good sanitation, but they also produce bio-gas which households can use for heating purposes instead of relying on charcoal.
“We are promoting this as an environmentally friendly sanitation technology that we feel should be preferred as opposed to sceptic tanks, soakaways and pit latrines which destroy the quality of underground water,” Mr Phiri said.
He urged people relying on sceptic tanks to ensure the tanks are water tight.
Professor Nyambe advised authorities to take regulation and management of surface and underground water seriously.
He appealed for  full execution plans outlined in the Sixth National Development Plan (SNDP) relating to the water sector instead of channelling resources to other areas.
“Water is life. No country can do without water. So we have to ensure that this resource is protected and its use regulated just like Namibia and Bostwana which are in semi-desert regions have done,” he said.
He regretted that although the country has good plans on paper, there was no control in the way people were erecting buildings on infrastructure and underground water recharge areas.
He urged local authorities and water utilities to work with stakeholders to ensure no one built in undesignated areas.
He said the country should urgently start using fora, like the 5th Zambia Water Forum which was held in Lusaka from November 2 to 3, 2015, to learn best practices being used in other countries to safeguard surface and underground water.
This is especially important because of Government plans to start water harvesting in order to increase the land under irrigation for sustainable agriculture.
One Lusaka resident called for an end to corruption in the allocation of land.
Peter Makamba of Chilenje Township said the corruption and thuggery which was associated with the buying and selling of land in the recent past played a role in some of the issues affecting management of the water sector.
“Remember how people used to allocate plots at night in some of these townships. It was all over in the newspapers when party cadres of a political party I cannot mention here, who were protected by big people, demarcated and sold any unoccupied piece of land they could find. That is how many people bought plots in Lusaka and started building houses even before the areas in which they bought these plots had power lines, roads or sewer lines.
“This is sad because even when the people went to get their plans approved at the council, they paid service charge but where is the service; the roads, the water pipes? So people ended up sinking boreholes,” Mr Makamba said.
He warned that as long as corruption remained embedded in the allocation of land, issues related to management of resources like water,  will never be resolved because corrupt people will always have their way.

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