LILONGWE, Malawi, July 25, 2021 (AEJ) - A protracted argument ensued in Lilongwe last Friday during Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) public hearing on the proposed intake site at Nkhudzi in Mangochi. This is the site identified by Southern Region Water Board (SRWB) for the extension of water supply project in the district. However, activists and residents suggested the developer explore an option away from a UNESCO world heritage site.
The developer SRWB, stood ground arguing they will require additional US$11 million to move the intake site from Nkhudzi to Namakoma 10 kilometers away.
Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development approved a loan of US$14.4m for supply of clean water through a bill passed in parliament to provide safe and clean water to residents in the lakeshore district.
This follows studies that areas surrounding Mangochi town, particularly those around the shore of Lake Malawi are experiencing significant settlement growth. This has resulted in critical need of reliable safe water supply.
Presenting the draft ESIA Kent Kafatia, Director of Water Waste and Environment Consultants who conducted the assessment told participants that attended the hearing at Capital Hotel.
“The intake structure at Nkhudzi Bay will involve construction of a conventional water treatment, transmission pipelines, two service reservoirs to be placed at both Nkhudzi Hill and Namiasi, pipe network and 15 new communal points, auxiliary buildings including construction of a 3km, 5m wide access road to the treatment plant.” Kafatia told participants from different sectors.
Kafatia added that in the course of conducting the ESIA they liaised with sector related government departments such as Fisheries, Parks and Wildlife including Museum and monuments. The objective for this expert assessment was to assess the implications of the project to fish and wildlife species both in water and on land. More importantly, how the cultural heritage in the project area will be affected and the mitigation plan for redress .
According to data available at district level from surveys conducted, communities are drawing untreated water directly from the lake making them prone to water borne diseases. This has put under five children at a disadvantage, whose mortality rate is estimated at 18 percent.
Experts hope that reliable water supply in terms of quality and quantity from a mandated service provider will promote eco-tourism and enhance economic empowerment of the surrounding residents.
However, concerns emerged during the public hearing especially on the proposed intake location at Nkhudzi which falls within a UNESCO World heritage convention site concerning the protection of cultural and natural heritage.
A critical Kenneth Mackay, who previously worked on a World Wildlife Fund supported project on eco – schools and community project speaking via zoom said that the proposed intake at Group Village Mwanyama’s area falls within UNESCO world heritage convention concerning protection of cultural and natural sites.
“Wild Wildlife Fund and other local organizations have been keen to ensure species diversity is conserved in the area,” he shared his comments.
Mackay and Hitesh Anadikat, a resident who lives in the area corroborated on a need for another expert study to be done for assessment. They were of the view that while water supply was key, there was a need to explore another site as an option to Nkhudzi to be the intake.
The two shared fears that the coming of the project will result in more damage to the environment, as it will drive the appetite for unsustainable natural resource utilisation citing examples in other parts of the country.
These sentiments were also shared by Herbert Mwalukomo, Executive Director of the Centre for Environment Policy and Advocacy. He suggested a need for a cost benefit analysis to be done to weigh possible options whether proceeding with Nkhudzi as intake was the best way.
Argued Mwalukomo, “I agree the right to clean water as part of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) three on good health and well-being. But there is a need to balance with SDG 14 life under water and 15 that highlight about life on land,” Mwalukomo said while emphasizing on exhausting options for the intake site.
However, Ralph Jooma parliamentarian in the area warned that at the current stage, it would be a bit tricky to go back and forth with the project.
Jooma argued that the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development are expecting to be paid back from the proceeds of the water supply project.
“If they hear we are planning to obtain money for additional financing. They will immediately withdrawal their resources. Let us not pursue that path. We are not at a stage to backtrack anymore and if we are going back to ask more money that will not work. By the way, this loan went through parliament and parliamentarians understood the contents of this bill. We can’t go back to parliament and ask for additional money. It can’t work at his stage,” said Jooma in his concluding remarks.
In his remarks Malawi Environment Protection Authority (MEPA), Deputy Director Mike Makonombera explained that there have been public consultations which the consultant has been conducting during his assessment. But what we are currently doing are not public consultations but public hearing.
“We are carrying out these hearings because we are mandated by law to validate what the consultant did. But also, to collect ideas and final opinions from all of us gathered here to be integrated in the ESIA.” Makonombera explained.
Said Makonombera, “The consultant has done a good to adequately address the impact, that the project will cause on the environment. The majority agrees that continuation be done with full implementation and monitoring of the mitigation measures.”
ESIA is as requirement by MEPA for any developer before commencement of any project of significant impact to the ecosystem under the Environment Management Act of 2017.