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 the 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 spent 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.
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 had no challenges when it came to offering adequate and safe water to its community. But this is not the case!
I call my journey in life as 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, adequate and 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 early years of 21st centaury, I was faced with a life of denial to one essential commodity in life. 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 when my sister and I who was my guardian walked the streets of our community to search for water. We could walk with fear running through our veins, for we never knew whom we could meet on our way to search for water. Though this was in an urban area, we walked long distances to find water; women from all corners of this community would join in the walk as we headed to our destiny. Young children of ages 8 to 10 were already exposed to this kind of a lifestyle; deprived of their sleep they also joined the masses. 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 km from the pit latrine. Although some of us were literate about the complication of drinking this water, we had no choice but to take the risk. When we reach the house where we used to draw water I remember joining a queue and when the gate opens 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. Because I had no choice, most of the time I reported late for class. 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. Eating, drinking, cooking, as well as the whole of good hygiene depended on water. 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 this was as a result of lifting heavy things. In this community most women complain of back ache and chest pains. Young girls have continued to be exposed to this kind of life as they help their mothers. Reports were heard of young girls taking 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 end they resorted into sexual activities with boys or young men, which ended some of them to un wanted pregnancies to early marriages. Mothers were not excerpted, there were certain scenarios where women would be scolded or beaten by their husbands because they took long at the water site. Mothers and girls being attacked as they walk at night to fence water were also reported.
I recall how on several incidents in cold season, I could shiver because of the whether which was as 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. 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 neighbours used it for cooking and drinking. This system has continued even todate. 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 minimu 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, then I could pour the water in my basin, I guess it was more of a morning execise
Diarahoa, dysentry and other water born diseases never left our compound. Both children and adult suffered from these water born diseases, others even lost their lives. At one point a young girl drown in one of the wells as she was run in the rains on her way home
I never got to know our mp and counsellor 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 candres preaching about the people we ought to vote for. The promise to deliver the social services was 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 narrated “it is very difficulty for members of parliament to deliver what they promise the people, because they donot stay within our community, they are just importanted.they have everything where they stay”. “ They don’t feel the pain of walking long distances and don’t know how it feels to dirty drink water from the wells”. The council is levying us ground rates and other levies so that they provide social services but we have never seen any one of them putting up a water utility in this community” she narrates. One of the groups known as marketees came up with a iniative after they approached their consellor to assist them communal water tap, according to the market chairperson, the consellor never granted them their quest. “This water facility we have was put as a result of the markets’s initiative” says a chairperson for a market known as chibolya- johnlaign market chairperson. Since the mp and counsellor were not doing anything to help this community and market we wrote a proposal to water trust , we were founded and that’s how come we have this communal tap” he narrated. The communal taps serves hundred of people who resides 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 cheap prize, the majority of zambian live on half a dollor per day, hence most of the poor in the community would 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 challeges of transport and poverty. Since november 2008 more than 500 people lost their lives due to 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.In zambia almost each rain season there is an outbreak of cholera. The question which still roars in my mind is will zambia attain the millinum development goal of access to improved water supply by 2015 ?
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 adquate clean water. As the international and local leaders sit to plan issues such as water supply, monitoring and evaluations should be strictly done to ensure that what was planned is implemented. Both the international and local dollars should continue to work with the community in making adquate and clean water accessible.If only politician can be there for the people and fulfil their promise, then we could see less and less of water born diseases and reduced dealth in our community.