12 January 2018

Lesotho: Independent Quality Assurance Needed

The physical quality and appearance of water can affect its acceptability to consumers and plunge communities into crisis. Because safe water plays a pivotal role in ensuring human health and wellbeing, its accessibility, sustainability of supplies and quality is of paramount importance.

There are a number of things that consumers quickly notice when they fetch water from various sources and these include its colour, the presence of foreign particles and odour. The need for safe water is even more imperative in urban water supplies, where consumers who pay for water services, trust service providers not to stray from set standards and guidelines.

Exposing them to aesthetically unacceptable water, even with an explanation that the water is safe despite its appearance or smell is unacceptable.

It is therefore prudent to understand the importance of consumer perception and to remember the grave costs associated with taking for granted both health-related guidelines and aesthetic criteria in water supply operations.

Taste, funny smell and appearance problems in public water supplies are some of the main causes of consumer complaints in most countries, particularly in Africa. Consumers are right to raise concerns when they see bloodworms where they do not expect to see them.

Elsewhere in this edition, we bring you a story that highlights the importance of increased surveillance and quality control in bulk water supplies. This follows the discovery of some bloodworms in water supplies in some parts of Maseru since the Christmas holidays, an occurrence that has shocked many people. Areas affected include the very Central Business District, where many people from areas that are not affected, come to work and conduct various business transactions.

This has triggered discussions on whether the government and consumers should leave issues to do with water supply solely to the Water and Sewerage Company (WASCO), particularly when it comes to critical issues of surveillance, monitoring and quality control.

It appears there is a danger in entirely trusting the water company to take on certain responsibilities due to conflict of interest that may arise. Water is life, only when it is safe for human consumption, so how can we ensure that the water provided by the water company is indeed in line with the World Health Organisation standards at all times?

We can only know for sure what we are drinking when the tasks of surveillance and quality control are periodically undertaken by independent bodies.

Surveillance contributes to the protection of public health by looking at areas such as the improvement of the water quality, cost, coverage and sustainability of water supply. It is a risk detecting mechanism that promotes preventive actions to fix identified risks. On the other hand, quality control ensures that water services adhere to quality standards and supplier's targets. Water suppliers are responsible at all times for the quality and safety of water and this can be achieved through sound operating practices and deterrent maintenance reinforced by quality control.

Safety mechanisms and innovations in the production, distribution, during maintenance and regular water testing for quality is critical to ensure safer supply. While the health sector in Lesotho is not that visible when it comes to issues of public water operations and supply, it should play a critical role in safeguarding the health of the public. It must be part of the water supply surveillance system. The bloodworms that have invaded water supply from the Mpilo Reservoir constitute a wake-up call signalling the need for new structures of surveillance and quality control programmes that would enhance water production and supply management for the delivery of water that the people can trust.

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