Zambia: Ndola Residents Struggle With Contaminated Tap Water

VERY morning, Bridget Sichinsambwe, 44, a Ndola resident gathers her three children before they can walk down some six kilometres to fetch drinking water at a nearest bore hole in the industrial area.

Despite having water readily supplied to her home by Kafubu Water and Sewerage Company, Bridget, knows this is the only way she can ensure that her family has clean drinking water that she is convinced will be safe to consume.

"Look at this," she said, as the greenish -coloured water, with a sulphurous smell, ran into the sink after she opened her kitchen tap.

"The water which comes out of our taps is dirty. Yet we are forced to drink it - knowing it is clearly unsafe for us and our families," she said angrily.

Bridget and her family stopped drinking water from the taps two years ago after her children began suffering from stomache and vomiting due to the state of the water.

Unable to afford to sink a borehole, she was left with no choice but to trek to the industrial area regularly to fetch the commodity in order to ensure that her family consumed some clean water.

Bridget says the journey to and from the industrial area takes them about two hours.

She said it is a difficult journey to undertake with 10 litres of containers strapped on their backs even for her youngest daughter who is only eight.

Apart from her three children aged between 15 and eight years, she is married to a shop assistant and at the same time is looking after her 73 year-old mother.

"I worry a lot about my mother's health. I have to make sure that there is bore-hole water in the house for my mother to drink," she lamented.

Reuben Kazimoto of Lubuto Township wonders why Kafubu Water and Sewerage Company collects money when the service it provides does not meet the standard.

"We have taken a lot of water samples to the company to be tested in the laboratory but no tests are conducted. This company needs to explain to us why it has continued to distribute water which is not safe," he complained.

Mr Kazimoto said he and his family often experience stomach pains whenever they use the tap water for drinking. This has forced the family to source drinking and cooking water from a near-by filling station in Masala Township which has a borehole.

For more than 25 years, people located in the Southern part of Ndola town on the Copperbelt Province have found their drinking water contaminated with effluent.

With factories situated further up the river Kafubu from residents in Ndeke, Kaloko, Mushili, Kabushi, Skyways and Masala townships, sewerage and industrial waste/fluid/contaminated water is discharged into the water course. A combination of the chemicals and sewer in the water concentrates in the Kafubu dam and blue-green coloured results in algae formation.

The algae forms as a result of the sewer effluent coming from the dilapidated sewer treatment plants that discharge the treated effluent into the river and pollution from industries who release their industrial effluent into the river.

The effluent acts as nutrients to the already existing bacteria and also photosynthesis takes place producing the blue-green algae which in effect gives the color to the water owing to inadequate treatment of water.

The residents in the affected part of Ndola say they have endured poor quality water which continues to pose a serious health risk. They say every day, they risk contracting waterborne diseases and vomiting which have become common in the affected areas.

In most of the mentioned townships, the number of children being taken ill with diarrhea on a daily basis is high at the clinics visited by this reporter.

A census conducted by the Central Statistical Office (CSO) in 2010, showed that the city had a population of 450,000. About half of the population receives water pumped from the Kafubu River. Kafubu Water and Sewerage Company was formed in July 2000 together with 10 other regional commercial utilities which were established to replace fragmented service provision by local authorities as part of a reform process by Government.

But the founding of the water firm has not helped much to resolve the problem.

At the time the company was formed, the total population of the city stood at 274,757 going by the statistics provided by the CSO. In 1990, the CSO states that the population was 214,777. The builders of the dam could have been in touch with reality then but now the population of the city has doubled.

According Ndola District Health Management Team records there are at least more than 100 cases of diarrhea per 1,000 people every year and two typhoid cases per year. Most of the cases are attributed to people drinking contaminated water.

Zambia Consumer Association (ZACA) says the Government should find a lasting solution to the outstanding water and sanitation problem. ZACA executive director Muyunda Ililonga says"It is high time that Government responds to these people. It is not correct to subject so many people to health risks associated with water borne diseases."he said.

Without doubt, the city's population is growing and the current facilities can no longer sustain the growing demand for both domestic and commercial use.

There is need for infrastructure to be redesigned if the water reticulation is to improve.

Perhaps, the project is beyond the water utility firm and Government which owns shares in the company should source funds to overhaul the entire water infrastructure.

"We need the Government to build state of the art facilities that will cater for the growing population of the city. This matter is very serious and we expect that the Government will intervene," he says.

"Raw sewer goes into the water body and because the water collection point is downstream. It is like getting water from the toilet," he added.

Mr Ililonga says that a number of complaints received by his association from the affected residents has been rising although he could not provide statistics. He said this was an indication that the problem had persisted.

"We have so many complaints especially in the dry season when the water levels are low. The residents say sometimes has foul smell and particles such as used condoms are being discharged from the tap," he says.

The Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) says it has received several complaints from the public about the poor water quality. ZEMA explains that the poor water sanitation is the major cause of stomach infections experienced among the residents who consume the water.

ZEMA Copperbelt regional coordinator Patson Zulu says while it could control the amount of pollutants released by the industries which surround the river, it remained incumbent upon the water firm to treat water being piped to the residents to the required standards.

He said the river has many effluents coming from the industries. It also receives agro chemicals applied by farmers that are washed into the river by the rains. "The industries are regulated on the value of effluents discharged into the stream and the river is supposed to cleanse itself," he said.

Mr Zulu reiterated that the continuous pouring of untreated sewer had contributed to the poor quality of water adding that the company should monitor the quality of the water being supplied to the residents to ensure that it was free of contamination.

"Apart from applying water treatment chemicals, the company should constantly monitor the quality of drinking water. This will enable it take provide a remedial or preventive measures where it detects contamination," he said.

The plant has been designed in such a manner that the water extraction point which is the dam is on the lower stream of the river hence the self cleansing factor does not apply. This results in high levels of contamination pouring into the dam.

Kafubu Water and Sewerage says it is aware about the challenges being brought about by old infrastructure which is compounded by the river's receipt of semi treated sewer and other effluent coming from the industries. Company planning and development manager Paul Bilima admits that the sewer treatment plant is not functioning well.

He also suggests that ZEMA becomes more proactive in sensitising companies on the need to reduce pollution levels.

"The companies are fined by the agency if they discharge effluent above the desired limit but there is no law to compel them to clean the water," he says.

Mr Bilima says that the company has been incurring huge costs to treat particles in the water. But he argues that redesigning of the water plant is not the answer to the improvement of the quality of water. He says that the company sponsored by the Japan International Cooperation for Africa (JICA) will use US$ 9 to rehabilitate the plant to bring it up to standards.

An independent engineer Lufunda Chembo insists that redesigning of the plant by adding more units is the only way the quality of water for the affected residents will improve. He says that alternatively boreholes should be sunk near the already existing dam to make the dilution factor more effective.

"If this is not done the quality of water will continue to be poor and diarrheal diseases will keep on increasing," he said.

The method of piping recycled water for both domestic and commercial use is good for water conservation but with the dilapidated infrastructure it does not make sense at all.

Ultimately, the need for Kafubu Water and Sewerage Company to improve its infrastructure to modern standards has become more necessary now than ever if the problem of water contamination in Masala is to be a thing of the past.

Water is life and not death!

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