The WIP The global source for women's perspectives

Water Becomes Blue Gold in Lusaka

by Susan Mwape
Zambia

Where there is water there is life. Forty-three years after independence, Zambia still has persistent water issues. If anything, the introduction of a multi-party system has only accelerated the water problems that have been going unnoticed. One would expect that a country as old as Zambia would be more stable in terms of its water systems.
As we say, “life begins at forty.” Maybe life for us as a country has only begun.

New Kanyama Township is about an 8-minute drive from town, a 15 -minute walk from Lusaka’s city center. By now, this would ideally have been a habitable area, especially since this compound was founded long before the independence of

Zambia and is one of the largest residential compounds in the city.

A sad development occurred here about 2 weeks ago when the Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company (LWSC) closed down all communal water taps to facilitate the opening of new taps that were placed in different locations. The new taps were designed to regulate the water systems as they came equipped with meters.

Before the current ruling party, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), took to office, New Kanyama residents used to draw free water from communal taps located at all corners of the compound. The taps had been cared for by the residents, but suddenly one morning, and without notice, residents found a patron at each tap.

The patrons, who were dispatched by the city council and are themselves residents of the township, began charging one hundred Kwacha (K100) for six 20-liter containers. The MMD had promised upon assuming power that it would improve services for the residents, but the newly introduced water program failed to deliver the kind of improvements expected by the people. Upon hearing that residents were being forced to pay for water, a member of the former ruling party, UNIP, took to the streets announcing that people need not pay for water. While some of the so-called patrons were fortunate enough to run away, others were severely beaten by some of the angry residents.

Some MMD Cadres followed the former UNIP Cadre resident and convinced him to go around the compound again and change his statement. He complied and has since become part of the MMD.

In another disturbing incident, an elderly man who seemed to have been walking for a while went to one of the new public taps and asked the lady patron for some water to drink. The lady, who collects levies on behalf of the LWSC, rudely chased him away without any regard for his fatigue or thirst, despite the fact that he did not stop at a household but at what should have been a communal tap. If the LWSC exists to serve, how can it condone such treatment?

Residents of the Kanyama Township recognized from the onset that the new taps would prove problematic. Patrons who monitor taps far from their homes are often rude and less understanding than those who are stationed closer to home where their neighbors buy their water. According to Mrs. Daka, the new rules are ridiculous.

“We are made to pay K100* for water in a 20-liter container and at the same time expected not to fill the container to full capacity but only up to a certain level,” she said.

Another resident, Mrs. Mudenda, wondered why the LWSC was charging some of the residents only fifty Kwacha (K50) and others double that amount. When the new water system was instituted, residents were charged K100 for six 20-liter containers. They are now being charged the same amount for one 20-liter container.

“We do not like the treatment we are getting from the tap patron. When we want to draw water, we are not allowed to wash the containers we draw water from. The patron puts her hand on top of the tap while we draw our drinking water in buckets and that is unhygienic.”

When the Kanyama residents had had enough, they went to the LWSC office and confronted officials. When they explained their predicament, the officials seemed shocked and at a loss for words. Although no proper answer was given, they have scheduled a meeting with the residents.

* 85% of Zambian population lives on less that one (1) US dollar (K4348) a day.

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