Apart from the normal rehabilitation, expansion and installation of new water supply systems in growing towns, Malawi’s Blantyre Water Board is undertaking an innovative resource management project.
In an Exclusive interview with Gift Sageme, CEO at Malawi’s Central Region Water Board (CRWB) and Advisory Board member of the upcoming African Utility Week in Cape Town, we find out more about a project that is changing the uncertainties of water supply.
Gift, please tell us more about your current projects in Malawi.
The project will bring water from the Likhubula River, which originates from Mulanje Mountain, to Blantyre City. Until now, Blantyre has been supplied with water from Shire River that flows from Lake Malawi to Zambezi River.
Another interesting and similar project in Lilongwe Water Board is at an advanced preparatory stage. This project will lay infrastructure to extract water from Lake Malawi, with heavy mechanical pumping, to Lilongwe City, some 130km away.
Another innovative project that CRWB and Southern Region Water Board (SRWB) have been implementing is the installation of solar electricity generating plants to energise water pumps in order to supplement intermittent energy supply from the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM) Ltd.
What have been the biggest challenges?
The major challenges the water supply sector in Malawi has been facing are:
• Non-payment of water bills by public institutions. This constrains the water boards’ cash flows to the point of not being able to operate let alone maintain the infrastructure adequately, invest in new systems, pay statutory taxes, etc.
• Social tariffs that are not able to generate adequate resources for big investments in the water supply systems. As a result,any meaningful investment means the Water Boards resorting to borrowing from co-operating partners like the World Bank, European Investment Bank, and African Development Bank.
• Effects of climate change, which include floods, which sweep away infrastructure for water supply, droughts that negatively affect both quality and quantity of the raw water supply, and unpredictable rainfall patterns. These are compounded by degrading watersheds, which render the raw water sources vulnerable.
• Africa has not just started feeling it but is neck deep in the quagmire of the effects of climate change.
What, in your opinion, are the alternative solutions for South Africa’s shortage of water?
I may not have the level of knowledge about South Africa’s watersheds but what comes to my mind immediately to rescue the country from the water scarcity is the vast oceans surrounding it. The good thing is that desalination technology is available worldwide and I believe SA has the economic strength to acquire and manage such technology. Rainwater retaining infrastructure is another solution to invest in along with groundwater management. My belief is that all SA requires is a thorough investigation of these areas and to come up with area-specific solutions.
What are your thoughts on pricing water as a commodity?
A massive information, education and communication initiative is required on the economic goodness of water as a resource. In the case of South Africa, this is the time when people are experiencing the scenario in Cape Town. It is at times like these that it would be much easier to convince the citizenry of the need to pay economic prices for the water supply services in order that the function of delivering water can be sustainable.
I believe that the City implemented a massive information drive in the early stages of these challenging times.
What surprises you about the water sector?
The way governments list it behind all other sectors like energy, roads, agriculture, and health. What they don’t realise, however, is that without water none of the other sectors can survive. Give me one sector that can!
What will be your message at African Utility Week?
Need for sectoral practitioners to join hands and force governments to put the sector in the position where it rightly belongs – at the front of all sectors. This will encourage priority in terms of investments, which were required yesteryear in all African countries. ESI
Meet with innovative water experts at the African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa conference and exhibition on 14-16 May in Cape Town where panel discussions during the Water conference session will tackle topics on: climate change, building utility resilience, and the role of financial institutions in water project financing.