A multi-billion dollar UNICEF funded project meant to provide safe and potable water in Karonga district through the provision of boreholes is mired in controversy almost four years after completion because in some areas the boreholes are not there.
Where they exist, in places such as Lupembe and Mlare, they are either not completed or no water comes out because they were shallowly drilled, according to locals.
“The contractor who was given the job here did shoddy work. Instead of drilling 60 – 70 metres for each water point, he did 46 meters or less. That is not adequatebecause the water table is deeper,”Kalyoto Sichali, Chairperson, Mwakabanga Village Development Committee said.
Sichali also said UNICEF never came to inspect the bore holes after they were drilled.
“These bore holes have not functioned since 2013 to date. We reported the issue to our MP Frank Mwenifumbo, who promised to take it up with UNICEF. But to date nothing has happened,” he said.
Each year, children in developing countries such as Malawi, die of diseases that could have been prevented, such as pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria. These diseases are often a direct consequence of the living conditions in which these children survive.
With a total population of more than 327,084 based on the 2008 Population and Housing Census (PHC), the district is flood proneand each year cases of cholera and other water borne diseases are inevitable.
This year the district recorded 48Cholera cases and five deaths.
Locals showed this reporter a consolidated list of 90 water points, which they claimed UNICEF bankrolled and constructed through a Lilongwe based company called Keiretsu Construction Limited run by opposition MP Rhino Chiphiko as the major shareholder.
UNICEF Malawi WASH Coordinator Tauzie Blessius confirmed that UNICEF centrally procured the services of the company to drill bore holes in Karonga District.
Keiretsu Construction Ltd (Keiretsu), previously known as Mississippi Construction Ltd, is a wholly owned Malawian registered limited liability company operating mainly in the drilling and construction of boreholes.
In its 2010 strategic plan, the company claims borehole drilling and construction in Malawi is dominated by unskilled and or unscrupulous operators whose aim is to make quick cash and hoodwink communities.
“Keiretsu could like to establish itself as a pace setter and benchmark company. We want to be a dominant provider of fresh, safe, clean potable water in the Water and Sanitation Sector (WATSAN) in Malawi by drilling and constructing good quality and long lasting boreholes,” it said.
Paradoxically, the reality on the ground tells another story.Chiphiko did not respond to emails.
The Department Flanders International spent twomillion Euros for the UNICEF-WASH programs in Malawi. WASH stands for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. Another three million Euros was provided by the same department for UNICEF MALAWI in the period 2012 – 2015.
The Flemish aid to UNICEF in Malawi wasfocused on two districts, namely Zomba and Karonga. These districts are vulnerable to cholera, food shortage and flooding. More than 30% of the cholera cases and 60% of the deaths are situated in these districts.
“Forty-nine out of the 90 boreholes are not working. In fact, they worked for a few months after completion. 17 boreholes were not completed,”Dickson Sichali, Vice Chairperson for Lupembe Area Development Committee said.
UNICEF envisaged that the poorest and least reachable communities should have better access to safe water. More specifically, safe water should be available within a walking distance of 500 metres and/or in schools within a distance of 200 metres.
“Women here still walk four to five kilometres to fetch water at Lake Malawi. We know the water is not safe but we have no option. Others go to rivers and others have dug their own shallow wells. Practically we share this water with both domestic and wild animals,” Sichali said.
However, UNICEF claims of the 57 bore holes it visited in the district in August this year, only two are not working.
Blessius rubbished the villagers’ claims during a field visit to villages we randomly picked where they were either no Boreholes or they were not working.
“The villagers never reported that to us. We assign GPS coordinates for each water point we construct to make sure it is indeed drilled and is monitored. Therefore, it is impossible that our water points are either not functioning or they were not constructed,” Blessius said.
But he admitted that children in the district were suffering due to lack potable water.
“Once construction is complete we hand over the water points to the district water team which is supposed to manage them in liaison with village water committees. For us we only support the district water team either technically or financially,” Blessius said.
He claimed UNICEF had improved access to water by 80 per cent saying more than 200 people access each water point.
Karonga Central Constituency MP Frank Mwenifumbo backed the villagers’ claims saying borehole contractors were short changing villagers because they lacked supervision from Unicef.
“They want to save on fuel and also do as many boreholes as possible at the same time,” Mwenifumbo said.
He noted that local water communities lacked capacity for simple maintenance works because they were not trained and not given start up kits to use.
“For instance, in Kenya a borehole is officially handed over to the community after one year to rule out cheating like depth and shoddy works,” Mwenifumbo said.
But Blessius said UNICEF had a stringent monitoring mechanism for its projects.
“I can confirm that 85 – 90 per cent of all bore holes we drilled in this district are working. This has been validated by a special evaluator we hired,” he said,
District Water Officer Aaron Chaponda queried the information for the villagers saying it was flawed and biased.
“What happens is that when boreholes are drilled, they are handed over to local water communities who are empowered so that they regularly maintain them,” Chaponda said.
Meanwhile, the Malawi government has suspendedChaponda, who was the main overseer in the implementation of UNICEF projects, and nine others for their alleged involvement in the plundering of millions of Kwachas meant for development projects in the district.
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