Slum dwellers say govt violating their water rights

Malawi Homeless People’s Federation (MHPF) – a grassroots network of Malawians whose incomes are below the national poverty level – has lashed out at government and water boards, accusing them of violating their right to water.

Chihana (r) speaking during the interface meeting

MHPF executive member Modester Chihana complained that the government is doing little to promote and enhance the right to water of slum dwellers, which in effect, denies them the right to life.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 6 calls for both developing and developed countries to consider access to water for their citizens.

The goal says the human right to water and sanitation is foundational to the realisation and enjoyment of all other human rights.

But speaking during an interface meeting on Friday, Chihana said lack of safe and clean drinking water continues to threaten lives of slum dwellers in the country.

“Some marriages have broken up because husbands have become increasingly suspicious of their wives who wake up very early to fetch water. It is sad that whenever we report these water shortages, the water board and government do not quickly come to our rescue. But when the same problem occurs in area 47 or any other high income area, they rush there,” said Chihana.

The Hyphen Media Institute organised the meeting following a study that showed that peri-urban and slum dwellers in Lilongwe City are paying twice to thrice higher per unit price for water they are consuming than their urban counterparts.

The interface meeting brought together residents, civil society leaders, chiefs and duty bearers to discuss these challenges and come up with solutions of bringing them to an end.

Chihana emphasised that government had a duty to push water boards to supply safe and clean water to all citizens irrespective of where they live or their levels of income.

“I ask them to see for themselves the dirt in some of these slums occasioned by lack of water and good hygiene practices. They need to do something about it because the tax and revenue they collect from us is meant for that,” she said.

Village Headman Kanyemba of Mtandile Township took a swipe at government and the water boards for paying lip service on access to water.’

Kanyemba observed that much of what government says about access to water remains paperwork.

“We need actions and not lip service. Give us water in the slums. The kiosks that you have given us are not enough. In fact, majority of them are not working, a situation which forces most women to walk long distances in pursuit for water,” said the chief.

But the National Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Program Manager in the Ministry of Health and Population, Holystone Maumsamatha Kafanikhale, was on the defensive, saying government is doing a lot to meet water needs of the people.

Kafanikhale said government has signed a number of international protocol, which commit it to protect women and their right to water.

“We are doing a lot, including working towards the implementation of the Salima water project so that problems of water supply in the city are no longer an issue,” assured Kafanikhale.

Hyphen Media Institute national coordinator, Charles Nkula, said it is the wish of his organization that there is equal supply of water across the areas in Lilongwe and other cities in Malawi.

“We held this meeting to bring all these issues to the attention of the authorities so that they act accordingly,” said Nkula.

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