What does a community perched on a hillside with no water do? If your answer was “relocate” you would get half a mark because the real answer is ‘die.’ For the Nawotcha community, however, they chose never to die nor relocate and through some genius and altruistic moves of a few, everyone is happy and well watered.
The upper part of Nawotcha and Chilobwe in Blantyre has been without piped water since piped water begun, all along the communities had to rely on water that naturally occurs on the leeward side of Soche hill, the water was seasonal, murky and soon the boom in population mated with the decline in tree population along the hills saw the water drying up.
To get water, one has to get further up the hill.
|Woman draws water at Tchinga's kiosk|
“We would go up there in the hills at night to draw water because during the day there would be many people and some would fight over who gets to draw water first,” said Fagesi Tchinga a longtime Chilobwe resident.
Blantyre Water Board has not even bothered to get its pipes near the area, maybe because most families there are generally poor or because the topology of the area is forbidding, we will never know. What we know is the people were caught between hard rocks and dry wells.
Joel Tchinga, husband to Fagesi Tchinga the woman who spoke earlier in this story, narrated the story of Nawotcha’s bad water days. He spoke from his house, which is one of the very last before Soche Hill becomes uninhabitable due to steepness.
The house is sandwiched in between huge rocks and right in his courtyard grows a Mubanga tree, a tree one would find in a real jungle and yet here 15 minutes from Chilobwe Centre it stands.
“It started as a political thing, Mr. Magwira and Mr. Chimombo wanted to be elected as councilors so they brought the idea of bringing water from up the hill, it was part of their campaign moves,” said Tchinga.
The two never got elected but their idea of harnessing water caught on among some people and so Tchinga and about eight other people invaded the hill.
|Tchinga and Fagesi: Messiahs or Business People?|
Each person of the eight lays his own pipes, each person has his ‘own’ spring, and each person has his own water kiosk where they sell water to the rest of the community.
Tchinga has two water selling points, one is watched by his son and the other has an employee. For anyone to tap 20 liters of water, they part with K15 and according to the family one tap turns over about K1000 per day.
“I have two children in private schools, another is in college, I have put Iron sheets on my house and the rest greases the running of this household and if a senior loafer like me boasts of being alive, it’s because of this water,” said Joel, stroking his long grey goatee.
He has worked as a watchman in several big companies since a living in Blantyre in 1980 from his home in Nchalo, he has lived in Blantyre long enough to own some land amongst the stones of upper Chilobwe where he has built some houses that he rents out. It is from this rent that he got the funding for his water project.
The water is tapped from natural spring about two and a half kilometers from his house this because he said he laid about 600 pipes each stretching four meters. He placed some cement around the spring and channeled the water into his pipes. No pumps, no damming.
The water comes straight to his house from where it goes to about 10 private customers and the rest goes to the selling points where women crowd around to fill their water canisters.
It’s not been an easy road for the Tchingas; many times than they can remember thieves have stolen their pipes that lie plastered on the hills. The family had to go into debt just to replace the stolen pipes.
“They stole my pipes so many times that I wanted to quit but I told myself not to not just because we find soap from the water but because we need the water, one night the water suddenly stopped i went up there with a weapon am not going to reveal here and missed one of the four vandals by the hair, since then my pipes have not been stolen again,” said Tchinga
Fagesi, the wife, said the coming of the water means little headache because the place she used to draw water from was far and that the water was not clean especially after the rains.
Confronted on the quality of water the family reticulates to the community, the Tchinga’s insist theirs is one of the best water flowing out of Blantyre taps because it comes from a hill that is not inhabited and is filtered by the rocks before going into the pipes.
The family said they have special days that they go to clean their water source but ruled out using water purification agents saying if they apply chemicals they go right down since there is no dam. The water source has also been covered [reportedly] so nothing can fall in.
|We needed water: Tchinga|
The hill is fast losing trees and just like the springs they used to draw water from, the existing springs are on their way to extinction if the rate of trees being felled continues; a thing that substantially scares Tchinga.
“The sustenance of the spring is at God’s mercy, he can dry it even tomorrow but as for the trees, it’s true that they are fast going and that the hill is drying since the trees provide shade to the water,” said Tchinga.
He said his and his fellow water providers formed a committee that tries to replenish and re-afforest ate the hill saying they plant up to 2000 seedlings per year but said it’s not enough since wanton felling of trees goes unchecked.
He said though there are guards to check tree felling, some community members go and fell trees at night and some go in the day and bribe the watchmen. Him and his fellow water providers do not have the legal mandate to patrol the hill or to stop anyone from felling trees since the hill is under the government.
“In the near future we want to be more aggressive in protecting the hill, we will decide how in our committee and take our proposition to the forestry department.”
Demand for the water goes down sharply when the rains touch down, households get their water from the many seasonal springs that pop up on the hill’s foot. Some trap water from their roofs but when October comes demand for Tchinga and Company’s water goes through the roof.
“People come this side from Chilobwe Centre especially when the Blantyre Water Board stops flowing, but the problem is that when October comes, our water pressure also drops after all my pipes are only two inches wide as you saw,” said Tchinga.
But a drop in water pressure is better than living in Zingwangwa in some adjoined houses with no pit latrine and yet with water flowing only from about 11pm. When water stops flowing in this part of Zingwangwa women remember their days in the village because they have to travel long distances trying to sniff for taps that are still running, in Bangwe, its worst.
|Water is life|
The latest Joint Monitoring Program Report by UNICEF and World Health Organization, states that 95 percent of people in urban areas and 80 percent in rural areas have access to safe water. This statistic is however contested by the charity Water for People - Malawi which says the de facto water situation in the 21 low-income areas of peri-urban Blantyre is that only 62 percent of people have access to water that meets government standards.
Blantyre Water Board will probably never bring their pipes to upper Nawotcha and the natural spring is not likely to dry up in the next three years and during this period, people of Nawotcha will not have water induced headaches but it all a time bomb and when the springs dry you will hear from Tchinga again.
Tchinga, Mazonda’s son, Chimera, Zaina, Mpazula and Chimombo are not names that one will hear during any awards ceremony in Malawi but what they are doing in Chilobwe - that is using personal resources to bring water to hundreds of households - is the type of action the dictionary calls heroic.