Indecisive Lilongwe Water Board goes back to Diamphwe Dam

As controversies over the Lake Malawi Water Project continue, Lilongwe Water Board has set its eyes on reviving the abandoned Diamphwe Dam Project, a development which analysts have said it shows how indecisiveness is the utility company which recently has been touting the Salima project as the best option to solve the water problems in Lilongwe City and other surrounding areas.

Alfonso Chikuni CEO of LWB: LWB will be advised by government on processes to be followed in executing the Diamphwe Project plan

The Diamphwe Dam Project, which is part of the Lilongwe Water Programme, was controversially abandoned after one of the main financiers the World Bank pulled out following Malawi Government insistence to pursue the Lake Malawi project an idea which the bank vehemently opposed, and also following bloated figures for compensation of resettled people to be affected by the project.

The World Bank has been arguing that since some of the water sources that make up the catchment for the Lake Malawi such as Lilongwe, Diamphwe and Lingadzi Rivers pass through Lilongwe, it was senseless to let the water go down more than 100 kilometers to the lake only to spend billions of kwacha pumping it back the same route.

On the other hand, the figures presented for compensation which were in excess of MK14 billion to compensate about 5,178 people, shocked the World Bank which suspected that some individuals bloated up the figures for them to also benefit from the compensation sum.

All along, the board has used the discontinuation of Diamphwe Project to justify the Lake Malawi Water Project pegged at US$500 million which Lilongwe Water Board embarked on without the mandatory environmental impact assessment and with no proper costing to justify the amount being mentioned.

In an interview Lilongwe Water Board Chief Executive Officer Alfonso Chikuni confirmed the revival of the Diamphwe Dam Project.

“Both Lake Malawi and Diamphwe Dam projects will be pursued concurrently until there is confirmed implementation of a new water source to meet present and future water demand for Lilongwe City and surrounding areas,” Chikuni said.

In the new development Lilongwe Water Board and the Malawi Government has now turned to Mota Engil in a deal whereby the contractor is also expected to fund or source funding for the project, just like in the case of the Khato Civils for the Lake Malawi project.

Although Chikuni denied that the project has not been given to Mota Engil, a senior government official has disclosed that actually Malawi Government through the Malawi Investment and Trade Centre initiative already signed a memorandum of understanding with the company which is expected to execute the project as a joint venture with a Chinese contractor.

The revelation on the return to Diamphwe, however, comes as a surprise considering that Chikuni told the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament that the project was no longer under consideration. He said this when he appeared before the Committee in March this year.

Lilongwe Water Programme has a project component that involves development of a new water source and increasing water production capacity for the Lilongwe City and surrounding areas.

In his justification of having both projects, Chikuni said: “It is always good contingency planning not to depend on one source of water for a growing city such as Lilongwe.”

He also said Lake Malawi is vital since Diamphwe and Lilongwe Rivers have the same source ”Dzalanyama” and that, in times of crisis, Lake Malawi will act as a steady backup.

He said Lake Malawi offers a more resilient water source since it acts as a natural dam which cleanses raw water, unlike present water sources for the board where devastation continues to reign and pollution takes a toll.

On vulnerability to climatic forces, as was the case in the two seasons of 2014/15 and 2015/16, Chikuni argued that it can only be responded to by the lake water source because, as rivers dry, the lake is the last to experience climatic shocks.

Chikuni also said the Lake Malawi Project aims at resolving water challenges in the short term since it can be implemented relatively in the shortest time possible (2019) in comparison to Diamphwe.

The Lake Malawi Water Project will be undertaken by Khato Civils, a company owned by South Africa-based Malawian Simbi Phiri. The lack of an environmental assessment forced the Malawi Law Society to go to court to stop the project until all laws are complied with. The society got an injunction against the project in the High Court but Khato Civils had it overturned in the Supreme Court, pending an inter-partes hearing.

Commenting on the controversies, the Lilongwe Water Board CEO said that the Lake Malawi project will still undergo Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) and Resettlement Action Plan (RAP), including public disclosure for three months, while a detailed design is to be done concurrently with the ESIA and RAP studies.

Chikuni said construction of the Lake Malawi Project would take 18 months.

“So, tentatively, the (Lake Malawi) project could be commissioned in November 2019,” he said.

Of late it has been noted that the Lake Malawi shoreline is receding, an indication that the lake is drying up. Chikuni, however, said their initial feasibility study has addressed the issue of adequacy of the lake to supply water without significantly affecting lake levels.

“This has been confirmed by long-time-series hydrological studies and the Malawi Water Resources Board has already issued Water Abstraction Right of up to 200,000 cubic metres a day, against the planned 100,000 cubic metres a day under the project,” he said.

Chikuni said LWB will be advised by government on processes to be followed in executing the Diamphwe Project plan when a source of finance is identified.

“Project execution will be in accordance with procedures and guidelines applicable to national and international laws,” he insisted.

However, a water resource expert within the ranks of the Malawi Government has said that the decision to go back to Diamphwe was a sign that Lilongwe Water Board is being indecisive on what is the best way to go for it to solve the water problems in Lilongwe City.

“What people should know is that Malawi Government mostly acts as a guarantor to such projects but all the underlying decisions end with the utility company. Again, where the utility company feels that certain decisions are not technically appropriate, it is supposed to advise Government appropriately.

“However, what we have noted is that Lilongwe Water Board, for whatever reasons known to the management has been misleading Government on both the Diamphwe Project and even the Lake Malawi Water Project,” said the government source.

He said even the controversies surrounding Lake Malawi Project and awarding of the contract to Khato Civils were as a result of the Board not making appropriate decision.

He added: “Some of us are becoming suspicious that someone is benefiting from such decisions or there is a promise of certain benefits. The fear now is that Malawi Government might end up the loser by paying huge sums of money to a contractor if something goes wrong.

“There are a number of issues that have to be looked at and Malawi Government has to be careful when handling these issues. Imagine not even costing was done on Lake Malawi project to justify the US$500 million project cost. I would expect that Malawi Government should bring in an independent body to assess the water needs of Lilongwe City, recommend the most sustainable and cost effective solutions that can be explored”

Completion of Diamphwe Dam would mean that Lilongwe, a city with over one million people would have three sources of water worth over $1 billion, which the water resource expert has also said that would be an over investment for a city of that population.

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6 years ago

Makes a lot of sense. Pumping water uphill from lake Malawi does not make any logistic sense, not economical at all

6 years ago

Thus the problem of having proffessionals beign bulldozed by non proffesionals in making strategic decisions due appeasement attitudes LWB need to priotise on one lasting solution than doing things unknowingly as they will be costly please leave politics aside and come up with a proffessional strategic direction

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