LWB Leads Fight Against Cholera in Worst-hit Lilongwe District
For over a year now, Malawi has been struggling with a cholera outbreak which health authorities have classified as one of the worst in decades.
As of March 2023, the outbreak had killed over 1500 people and over 55,000 cases had been recorded with case fatality rate hovering at 3.3%, 2 percent up on the less than 1% World Health Organization approval.
Looking back, the first cholera case was recorded on 3rd March 2022 in Machinga and a year later, the disease spread to all the 28 districts of the country.
Malawi's capital Lilongwe is one of the fastest-growing cities in sub-Saharan Africa. Its growth has increased exponentially with an estimated annual population growth rate of 2%.
It is estimated that over 1.2 million people live in this city.
And at the height of the cholera outbreak, the most cases were recorded here, compared to any other district in Malawi.
According to the Ministry of Health statistics, over 11, 000 people were infected with cholera with over 540 dying from the disease in Lilongwe in the 2022/2023 epidemic.
Cholera usually spreads through contaminated water and, if left untreated, it can be fatal within hours, even in previously healthy people.
The outbreak has brought water and sanitation challenges to the fore, in both urban and rural areas. Lilongwe too is under test.
Of the estimated 100, 000 households in the Capital Lilongwe, 90, 000 have access to piped water from the official supplier, Lilongwe Waterboard, according to the ministry of health.
“Access to clean water here is a challenge. Here in Mtsiliza we turn to the river for water that we use for bathing, washing and sometimes cooking. This is because cost of water is higher than we can afford on daily basis,” said Grace Zimbiri, Mtsiliza resident.
Another resident, Maria Kanoni said they would love to use clean water but they could not afford to buy water.
This is posing a threat to the remaining 10, 000 that have no access to clean and potable water.
Noticing this challenge, Lilongwe Waterboard began expansion of its services for more people to access piped water in the city through a number of initiatives, including free water connections, reconnecting customers that were disconnected for nonpayment as well as expanding the network.
Inkosi Mbelwa 5, Board Chairperson of the Lilongwe Waterboard (LWB) says the interventions are meant to help in the fight against cholera.
He said the water utility body has repaired kiosks at around Chinsapo, Area 36, 38, Mtsiliza and Mtandire where thousands of people are able to access
“We have a strategy as Lilongwe Water Board that is aimed at coming in to end cholera. One of them is to fix kiosks that were not functional. We have also assisted water users that had accumulated water bills were eventually disconnected to be reconnected. These efforts are aimed at ending cholera in Lilongwe and the catchment area we serve,” said Mbelwa 5.
The initiatives by the waterboard have excited people who previously had no access to tap water. They say now they get clean and potable water at a subsidized price.
“We are a low income community and not everyone has that K30 to access water. The gesture by LWB has helped a lot as people here can access water at a lower price and very easy,” said Mrs Kumbwenza, who chairs Water Users in Biwi.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Water and Sanitation Abida Mia thinks initiative by Lilongwe Waterboard should be extended elsewhere.
She says this will help in the fight against cholera in Malawi.
“We have opened kiosks using water tokens to those that had accumulated water bills in Tsabango, Maliri, Mtsiliza among others. LWB has also connected water in all markets, public toilets and areas where people can easily access clean and portable,” said Mia
The efforts by the LWB to have more people access clean water are beyond subsidizing tariffs.
Close to 8, 000 have benefited from the free water connection project by Lilongwe Waterboard. It is hoped the move will help improve access to potable water and help them fight cholera
“I could hear from people around, my neighbours about free water connection. I was already in the process of applying for a water connection. I was fortunate enough to get connected free of charge by LWB. We drank clean and safe water same day they connected,” said Mrs Mbewe, a beneficiary of free water connection in Area 36.
Lilongwe Water Board Spokesperson Chisomo Chibwana told us further that they are in the process of connecting 14,700 households through the Lilongwe Water and Sanitation Project before the end of 2023.
“We have not only connected to 10, 000 customers as announced last year by the government but we have moved to some more 14 700 households. We intend to connect over 22, 000 households by the end of this year,” said Chibwana.
Meanwhile, Parliamentary Committee on Natural Resources Chairperson, Werani Chilenga says efforts by LWB will have an impact on sanitation in Malawi.
He thinks other water boards must undertake deliberate efforts to have more people access clean water as a way of preventing cholera.
“This initiative is going to assist people that have no access to clean water. This should be extended to kiosk operators so that they should be able to access water. On top, tariff hike should not be not be affected to kiosk operators,” said Chilenga.
Malawi is on track to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 target on universal access to water and sanitation for all by 2030.
To date, 87.9% of the population have access to improved sources of drinking water and 80% of the population uses improved sanitation facilities such as decent toilets and handwashing facilities with running water.
The efforts by Lilongwe Waterboard should be promoted to ensure that goal is attained as the quest to eradicate cholera in Malawi requires concerted efforts.
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