Catholic University of Malawi students: Water crisis affecting studies

Students at the Catholic University of Malawi (CUNIMA) in Nguludi, Chiradzulu have stayed for weeks without running water. So last Friday they conducted a peaceful demonstration at their campus to force management to swiftly address the problem. During the demonstration the students also presented a one-paged petition to the university’s Vice Chancellor Prof Anaclet Phiri with a four-day ultimatum (up to September 17, 2012.) asking. Nyasa Times’ journalist Lucky Mkandawire engaged Zitha Nangalembe one of the leading students in the demonstrations who also delivered the petition to the vice chancellor and here are the excerpts:

 LK: For how long have you been without running water?

ZN: For about six full weeks now.

 LM: How has the problem impacted on students’ welfare?

ZN: A number of students have fallen ill and are also failing to concentrate on their studies. The two hostels that we rely on for clean water have been giving out water mixed with sand. In certain cases the water that comes out is very dirty not fit for human consumption.

 LM: What have you been told is the cause of this water problem and what has management been doing to address the situation?

ZN: Management has not been helpful. It is just looking at us suffering without putting in place serious measures. The measures it has stipulated are long term which we feel do not reflect the urgency of the issue and reality on ground. Whilst we appreciate the measures, we want concrete and short term measures for immediate relief.

CUNIMA demo

So far what they are doing is to have men and women fetch water from Chisombezi River and fill the drums in our toilets. Management keeps on saying “we are working on the issue” and yet the problem is getting worse.

LM: Where are the students getting water for their personal use?

ZN: There are some lecturers’ houses which have now turned into hostels. These houses have running water almost throughout the day because the university mounted tanks there.  There are also two boreholes but it’s very difficult to pump water from one of them because it is hard while the other borehole gives out stinky, undrinkable water. In the extreme, some students use water from Chisombezi River.

LM: Is there any prospect that water will be restored soon?

ZN: We are not sure, actually we don’t know. The problem is that management never tells us, as students, what will happen. Last semester they changed underground pipe from metal to plastic but that still hasn’t eased the situation.

 LM: Coming to the issue of demonstration, you say the problem has been there for six weeks now, why has it taken you so long to conduct your so called peaceful demonstrations?

ZN: About two weeks ago we had planned for the demonstration but when the university’s administration got wind of it, it swiftly put a notice on the notice board saying it had contacted BWB [Blantyre Water Board] and the issue was going to be resolved anytime. So we cancelled it.

 LM: This time around, how did you plan your demonstrations?

ZN: The demonstrations started last Friday morning just before 8.00am. All the students assembled at the basketball court and the plan is that we will continue demonstrating peacefully until management rectifies the problem. As indicated this is a peaceful demonstration as such it was nonviolent, students were just singing and chanting various songs as they gathered outside the administration block. Others were singing a “VC achoke achoke” [The Vice Chancellor must go]. There was no police presence because we did not aim at causing any damage though most lecturers parked their vehicles far from the campus, others parked at the nearby police unit.

LM: Besides the demo, what else have you done to force management to address the problem?

ZN: Of course the student union has repeatedly raised this issue but management has done nothing. And as students apart from the sit in we wanted to conducted two weeks ago which we eventually called off there is nothing else we have done.

But we are touched by the concern and efforts other institutions like National Bank of Malawi and NBS Bank have shown by coming to our rescue through their generous donations specifically intended to cater for water on the campus but students are not seeing the results and they wonder if the funds are in fact utilized for the desired purpose.

 LM: Coming to the issue of the petition which you, on behalf of fellow students, presented to your vice chancellor, what is contained in it and who signed it?

ZN: The petition was written and signed by all the leadership of student bodies at the university such as human rights, political, economics, religious and social work bodies.

Among others, the petition says water is life, which in essence means water is essential for human survival and access to clean water is a basic human right and it is incumbent on every institution like university campuses with resident students to ensure that this basic right is guaranteed.

The petition also reminds the university management that for six weeks the student community has been suffering without adequate and clean water. Whilst the water problem has been recurring, this time it has prolonged far too long and the suffering is unbearable. Many students have fallen sick and cannot concentrate on their studies.

The petition also says students are disappointed and saddened by the callous attitude of the management which has been too little too late to say the least.

In view of this development, the students say the peaceful demonstrations will continue until the management effectively addresses the problem because they feel they have no any other option but to resort to this decision as the crisis is seriously affecting their academic life.

The petition also says students feel sorry for their parents who work very hard to put them through university education which is enormously expensive and are distressed by the situation their children are in.

Finally the students are requesting management to immediately work on the water problem by Monday, the 17th of September 2012.

 LM: Any other information you need to add?

ZN: We pay the university a lot of money and it is unfair for management to keep saying “we are fairly new so bear with us”. That is a lame excuse, six years down the line some of these issues could have been sorted out and appropriate measures put in place because right now the student population had increased as compared to 2006 when the university just opened its doors. Even the labourers who fetch water from the river are also tired. During weekends most toilets become dry and you can imagine the sanitation that is there. And for those that reside far from the two hostels, I earlier talked about that we rely on, it becomes very costly because they have to pay K50 per bucket to hire someone, mostly guards, to draw water for them. Management has really been unfair with us.

* Zitha Nangalembe is a First Year Political Leadership student and also a member of the Political Science Association at CUNIMA.

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