15 November 2004

Malawi Faces Water Crisis

Windhoek — ALTHOUGH Malawi is endowed with a diversity of water resources such as lakes, rivers and swamps, the country is likely to face water problems if certain checks and balances are not put in place.

Projections have it that by 2025, Malawi may face water scarcity.

Leading to this would be water pollution, a high population growth rate and lack of data on water resources.

Bright Kumwembe, Depu-ty Secretary in the Malawi Ministry of Mines, Resources and Tourism, said recently at a water symposium in a presentation titled "Towards Integrated Water Resources Management", that due to the high population inhabitants had cleared many a catchment area, thus increasing flooding incidents of the country's rivers.

Poor waste management especially in urban areas has resulted in the pollution of water bodies to an extent that pollution has become a problem.

Kumwembe said there have been cases where people have built unplanned settlements and have ended up digging toilets very close to water sources, which has brought fears of water pollution.

"It is a difficult situation where people build and sink wells even though the municipality does not allow it," he said.

Malawi, together with four other countries, namely, Mali, Zambia, Senegal and Kenya, are in the process of developing their national water resource management plans in an effort to achieve goals set by the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg two years ago.

The WSSD set 2005 as the year when countries will have to develop integrated water resource management (IWRM) and water efficiency plans by 2005.

Generally, Africa experiences serious water problems such as scarcity, floods as well as deteriorating water quality, which have led to the countries joining the programme in order to address problems and strengthen their water resources management systems.

Each of the countries has brought together government, the private sector, civil society and other interested groups at national level to examine their current status of their water resource plans and to agree on a process to strengthen those plans to meet the 2005 target.

The project, according to Kumwembe, identified three main issues, namely, water supply, sanitation, agriculture, transportation and navigation.

The country's high electric generation is solely dependent on the country's water resources.

To address water management challenges, the country has since reviewed water policies and legislation, promoted multi-stakeholder consultations, and established catchment management authorities and a national water resources authority.

The project, facilitated under the Global Water Partnership, is funded by the Canadian International Developmental Agency under its Africa programme.

Kumwembe said the project would help bring together resources to implement projects that aim at sustainable utilisation of water.

A lack of integration of policies of different ministries has sometimes brought conflicting messages as different ministries offer different advice even if it is one and the same issue.

But on the whole, the political will is there and people on the ground entrusted to deliver certain tasks should do what needs to be done, said Kumwembe. If not done, the political will could be withdrawn, he added.

So far the project has established several research opportunities, which include:

- Waste water management and reuse to see how water can be recycled;

- Rehabilitation of polluted water systems;

- People's response to water scarcity and the impact of water scarcity on livelihoods.

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