“Wake up Dando! It’s already 04:30 hours, we ought to start off else we will spend two hours on the queue at the near by well”. These were words of my beautiful sister spoken to me almost every morning of each day. In highly populated and rural areas of my country a lot of women and children are deprived of their sleep and spend most of their productive hours drawing water in wells and communal taps. This is due to lack of availability of adequate and clean water within the poor communities. In 2004 only 58% of Zambian population had access to improved source of water supply (IPS: story underneath)
I grew up in a land blessed with the largest water resources in the whole of southern Africa with 5 massive lakes and plentiful rivers. One would be certain that with such magnificent water falls like the amazing Victoria Falls Zambia has no challenge when it comes to offering adequate and safe water to its community. But this is not the case because access to adequate clean water has continued to be a problem since its independence.
I call my journey in life a two sided coin. My early child hood days are memories of luxury and privileges. Though tiny and tall as my description was, I was blessed with a caring mother and father who wanted the best for their children. I had access to almost all the basic needs such as shelter, cloths, food, and adequate clean water. This is but just the first side of my coin and is a story for a later day. My main focus though is on the other side of the same coin.
During my early teens in the initial years of 21st centaury, I was faced with a life of denial to one essential commodity in life. Due to various circumstances in life I found myself staying in a highly populated community in my country with my sister. I recall my teen days when waking up at 04; 30 hours became part of my bloodstream. My thoughts were that of water, I could talk water, smile water, walk water and dream water. I could not do a thing without thinking of where and how to find water. I remember walking the streets of my community too dark to even see a white thing in search for water. We could walk with fear running through our veins, for we never knew whom we could meet on our way. Women from all corners of this community would join in the walk as we headed to our destination. Children ages 8 to 10 deprived of their sleep, exposed to this kind of lifestyle could join the masses.
I recall how on several incidents in cold season, I could shiver because of the whether which was unbearable as I went to draw water. My dark long blue jersey was ever on my body, with a chitenge wrapped round my small waist, and black shoes worn on my feet as I queue on a long line. The images of little babies as they cling to their mothers with running noise and tears in their eyes have never left my mind.
At times when I reached the house where we used to draw water, I considered joining a long queue. When the gate opened we could all run in hoping to be the first ones to draw water. Sometimes I could be on number ten, but this was just a number for a person, as one person could have more than 3 or 4 buckets, others carried large drums. Mothers were eager to be the first ones so that they would go home early to prepare, break fast and bathing water for their husbands and children. Reporting early for school was a challenge on my side and probably others. I had no choice, since I was a girl and drawing water was part of my duty, I had to make sure we had enough water to drink, wash and bath. Without water we were stranded and there was no way we could do our house chaos. As a young girl I had no choice but to lift heavy loads of buckets and containers on my head, unfortunately we had no wheelbarrows. Due to the heavy loads of water I was carrying, I developed chest pains and I was told by the doctor that it came as a result of lifting heavy things. In this community most women complain of back ache and chest pains.
Women and young girls are always victims of vulnerability and access to adequate clean water is not an exemption. Attacks on women and girls on their way to the water sites very early in the morning or at night to fence water were also reported. Influenced by their male compassions, young girls took advantage of drawing water to engaging themselves in promiscuous behavior. At night these young girls ages 12 to 15 would be seen with bucket as if they were going to draw water but in the long run resorted to sexual activities. This ended some of them to unwanted pregnancies or early marriages. Mothers were not excluded, there were certain scenarios where women would be scolded or beaten by their husbands because they took long at the water site
Though this was in an urban set up, we walked long distances to find water. Most of this water was found in shallow wells. The wells in my community were dug by concerned residents who offered service to the masses in my community at a minimal fee. Most of these well are 2 to 3 m from the pit-latrine. Some wells were meant for drinking water while others were meant for washing and bathing water. Although some of us were literate about the complication of drinking this water, we had no choice but to take the risk.
Rain season was always a joyous moments for me, this is because we had water within our reach, each time it started raining we could put our buckets beneath the edge of the roof, By so doing water could drop in our buckets. This water was used for washing and bathing but some of our neighbors used it for cooking and drinking. This system has continued even to date. Most of the people have dug wells within their yards, this enables them to have access to water within their reach and this same water is sold to the community at a minimum fee. I could throw the container while holding to the edge of the rope in an open well as I pulled the container out, it carried with it heavy thick water with a strong scent, then I could pour the water in my basin, I guess it was more of a morning exercise. Underground the well water and water from pit latrines would meet hence contaminating the water we draw. As a result out break of different water borne diseases such as diarrhea, dysentery and other water born diseases never left our compound. Both children and adult suffered from these water born diseases, others even lost their lives. The wells are also dangerous in my community as young children are at high risk of falling in the wells. In 2008 a young girl lost her life as she drown in one of the wells as she was running away from the rains on her way home . she was found after three days floating on top of the well waters.
I never got to know our mp and counselor not because I wasn’t interested but because I didn’t know where to find them. During the campaign period I could only hear vehicles hooting, and cadres preaching about the people we ought to vote for. Promises to deliver social services were made countless times but once these people were voted into power, little or nothing was implemented. People’s voices, Women voices have been raised but it seems to be landing on deaf hears. Mrs. phiri a human rights activist who has lived in one of the highly populated compound of Lusaka almost her entire life “it is very difficulty for members of parliament to deliver what they promise because they do not stay within our community, they are just imported, they have everything where they stay”. “ They don’t feel the pain of walking long distances and don’t know how it feels to drink dirty water from the wells”. The council is levying us ground rates and other levies for them to provide social services but we have never seen any one of them putting up a water utility in this community” she narrates.
Every year during parliament, money is allocated to the water sector but little or nothing has been implemented in poor communities. This has lead to a number of groups originating ideas. for instance a group known as marketers came up with an initiative of putting up a communal tap after many times of pleading with their counselor to put up a communal taps. Since the counselor was reluctant about the project, they wrote a proposal to care international trust, which funded them. “This water facility we have was put as a result of the marketers’s initiative” says a chairperson for a market known as chibolya- johnlaign market. The communal taps serves hundred of people who reside in that area but lack maintaince.
According to 2008 global corruption report by transparency,which took corruption in the water and sanitation sector world wide as its focus. 80% of health problems in developing country can be linked back to inadquate water and sanitation, claiming the lives of nearly 1.8 million children every year and leading loss of an estimated 443 million school days for the children who suffer from water borne diseases. According to the Anti corruption comission in zambia instead of making water available to most rural poor, most of the boreholes are installed on government officials private plots.
Although chlorine is sold at a very inexpensive , the majority of Zambians live on half a dollor per day, hence most of the poor in the community could rather buy a pamela (a small plastic bag of millie meal) to feed their children than buy chlorine. In rural areas, access to chlorine comes with challenges of transport and poverty.
Since November 2008 more than 500 people lost their lives due to cholera. Almost each rain season there is an outbreak of cholera. Cholera is a water-sanitation borne disease. Sanitation- related disease including cholera and trachoma are the second biggest killers in Zambia’s children this is according to inter press service news agency.
The government is the major drive of development in any country. It is only through transparency and accountability of the monies meet for the contraction of water facility in communities that will ensure access to adequate clean water. As the international and local leaders sit to plan issues such as water supply, monitoring and evaluations should be strictly followed to ensure that what was planned is implemented. Both the international and local donors should continue to work with the community in making adequate clean water accessible. If only politician can be there for the people and implement their promises, then we could see less and less of water born diseases and reduced death in our community.
“My heart longs for that day when every human being regardless of their race, color, status and language will have the right, to access adequate clean water within their reach”
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.Voices of Our Future Assignment: Op-eds