Lilongwe’s Area 18 residents awarded K4.5m each as compensation for drinking human faecal contaminated water in 2017

Lilongwe District Registry of the High Court has determined compensation of K4.5 million each to 325 residents of Area 18 who sued Lilongwe City Council and Malawi Housing Corporation after drinking human faecal contaminated water between the night of July 17-18, 2017 following a broken sewage pipe.

High Court Judge, Justice Kenyatta Nyirenda found the two defendants guilty on September 9, 2020 of disregard of duty and his ruling was brought before the Registrar for assessment of damages, whose hearing took place on August 24-25, 2021.

Residents hold demo to demand clean water from Lilongwe Water Board not sewage.-Photo by Times Media

The ruling takes cognizance that this was “a very unique case, probably the first of its kind in Malawi’s jurisprudence,” saying the victims “suffered a horrible experience— an experience that they would not want to remember but unfortunately will never be erased in their minds”.

The residents initially sued Lilongwe Water Board as 2nd defendant but was later withdrawn.

The residents were claiming K6.5 million each as quantum of damages but Lilongwe City Council counter-proposed for a sum of K500,000 for those that were most likely affected by the contamination while the rest were put at K200,000.

Malawi Housing Corporation initially proposed K2 million each but later changed to ranges between K50,000 to K100,000 depending on the effort made to at least attach medical evidence to claimed sickness.

The Area 18 residents took to the streets to protest

After hearing from witness accounts — 14 for claimants and two from the defendants — it was argued that evidence shows that the various claimants suffered shock, anxiety and that they continue to suffer from the effects of the spillage as they, now and again, think that the water may be contaminated”.

“This is a horrible experience that the claimants would not forget,” said Assistant Registrar Anthony Pitilizan Kapaswiche in his determination.

“It is one of the worst experiences in one’s life and any reasonable person can actually get sick by the mere realization of having drunk water that is contaminated by human faecal matter.

“It is surprising that the defendants would be treating this as a small matter and go on to propose compensations ranging between K50,000 to K500,000.

“The proposal made by the defendants are, to say the least, a mockery of to the claimants and the general public as the said amount cannot even stand anywhere closer to bringing the claimants to the situation that they were in before the damage was done”.

The ruling also chided the two public institutions, saying “they offer critical services that affects the general health and welfare of Malawians and failure to discharge their duties accordingly has catastrophic results on the general public”.

After Lilongwe Water Board was withdrawn as 2nd defendant as having been found not in the wrong after it quickly closed taps when it was brought to its attention of the disaster after establishing that the broken pipes were not under its jurisdiction for maintenance.

But City Council still wanted Lilongwe Water Board to be party to liability of damages that would be determined and the assistant registrar ruled that that argument did not have a basis.

He also examined the residents’ proposal of K6.5 million each, saying he found it “to be on the higher side despite the fact that the value of the country’s currency is in tatters in the present era”.

Thus Kapaswiche determined a total of K1.365 billion to be shared equally by Lilongwe City Council and Malawi Housing Corporation for the 325 residents at K4.5 million each.

The claimants were awarded costs for the assessment and each party that would be aggrieved by the order of the assessment has the right of appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal within 30 days from December 13.

Last year, a decomposed body was discovered in a water chamber at Blantyre Water Board’s Chamber 79 situated in Ndirande-Malabada which was discovered when customers complained of no water flow.

Despite an assurance from Blantyre Water Board that the water was not contaminated because of the corpse, Ndirande-Malabada residents were totally not convinced.

The deceased was reported to be BWB’s member of security team assigned for the Chamber 79, who has been missing three weeks prior to being discovered on March 26, 2020.

However, BWB was quick to assure customers that the incident did not result in any contamination of the water which they, saying it is disinfected with chlorine and tested before being distributed to customers.

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