Sefaya Matakala is a disappointed man. He is mystified by the chronic water shortage in Maun, but more by the lack of innovative ways to solve the situation on the part of Botswana’s intellectuals.
“Botswana intellectuals are disappointing,” he pronounces with bile. Born 88 years ago, Matakala gesticulates as he emphasises that intellectuals should be people specialised in solving problems that confront society. But according to him this is not the case in the tourist-village. There has been a contention that African intellectuals are more to blame for Africa’s problems than African leaders but the Maun situation calls more for political will than finding the nearest person to blame. Maun is literally surrounded by water but for years since residents of the tourism-hub have gone without potable water with the situation taking a turn for the worst last year. The taps are dry and schools have no water, as well as health facilities.
One source said patients at some clinics have nowhere to go when nature calls. What surprises many in the village including old men like Matakala is the fact that Maun is literally an “island” surrounded by water. The people of Maun see water everyday as they drive and walk around but there is no water in their homes. “This is an island,” says Matakala with conviction. He adds as if an afterthought, “do you know what an island is? There is water everywhere, but we don’t have water to drink or bath.” With Thamalakane, Boro and Shashe Rivers surrounding the village Matakala, who worked for the Botswana government as a driver in the Roads Department for three decades is surprised that intellectuals are failing to solve the water problem in Maun. Thamalakane River passes right through the belly of Maun. “Don’t tell me there is no water,” he argues.
There is a school of thought that the situation is compounded by effects of climate change which led to flooding of the Okavango River thereby rendering some of the boreholes used to water the village inaccessible. But Dr. Mike Murry-Hudson of the Okavango Research Centre in Maun quickly dismisses this thinking. He notes that the recent higher flooding recorded in the past few years is not unusual, adding that this has been the trend in the past 80 years. Murry-Hudson-a Wetland Ecologist who studies the responses of wetland plants to changes in hydrology, which might have come from climate change or as effects of development brought about by people, says the past years of higher rains and floods is the normal behaviour of the Okavango system. “We cannot attribute this to climate change.”
In the meantime, life is miserable for the Maun residents who have to abandon sleep in the wee hours to get the priceless commodity recognised in July 2010 by the United Nations General Assembly as a human right. A resident based in Botshabelo ward says they wake up at around 12 O’ clock midnight to get water from the standpipes. “The water pressure at the time is okay, but if you come in the morning you will not get any water,” he said.
Some residents go to Boyei Primary School nearby to get water. The UN recognised the right of every human being to have access to sufficient water for personal and domestic uses (between 50 and 100 litres of water per person per day), which must be safe, acceptable and affordable (water costs should not exceed 3 per cent of household income), and physically accessible (the water source has to be within 1,000 metres of the home and collection time should not exceed 30 minutes). According to the Millennium Development Goals 2012 report 783 million people, or 11 per cent of the global population, remain without access to an improved source of drinking water. Such sources include household connections, public standpipes, boreholes, protected dug wells, protected springs and rainwater collections. Many countries met the MDG drinking water target five years ahead of schedule but work is not yet completely done with over 40 percent of all people without improved drinking water living in sub-Saharan Africa.
The MDG report states that in rural areas, the number of people without an improved source of water decreased, from 1.1 billion in 1990 to 653 million in 2010. However, the gap between urban and rural areas still remains wide, with the number of people in rural areas without an improved water source five times greater than in urban areas.
Botswana is currently involved-with the help of the World Bank-on an ambitious water sector reform project, which started in 2009 and will be completed in 2014. The objectives of the reform are mainly to meet current and future water challenges. As part of the project, government mandated the Water Utilities Corporation (WUC) to take over water supply services in rural areas from the Department of Water Affairs (DWA). In Maun the water shortage can be attributed to a few things: many boreholes are in flood areas and are inaccessible. This means people neglected to think what would happen in future if floods occur. Also according to Dr. Murry-Hudson no one foresaw that some groundwater in the area have arsenic (a poisonous chemical element) above the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended standards.
One contributing factor is that the infrastructure to supply water is very old and is subject to leaks, which affects water supply in Maun. The situation is affecting businesses in Maun. A source at a lodge said that they pay about P250 to buy 500 litres of water from Water Utilities Corporation to fill their tanks. “We buy water fortnightly,” she said. During the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) congress held in Maun recently President Ian Khama said that the government has committed a budget of P630million for the implementation of emergency projects, which projects portfolio entails the implementation of water treatment plants with particular objective to exploit brackish or saline water sources abundant in many areas, water transmission lines from the more reliable sources, water network upgrades and development of additional boreholes and storage tanks.
Now as Matakala gazes at the people queuing for water at a Water Utilities supplied tank just outside his yard he cannot help but reminisce of bygone times when they used to drink water from the river. “In the past we used to drink from the river only to be told later to drink from the standpipe.” The tank, which supplies water to the Boseja residents in Maun, is now named after him. He points to a standpipe in his yard and says, “I paid for that but I don’t have water to drink.” What pains him most is that every month he pays his water bills.
Matakala says life in the past was good before developments came in and before the educated people came with stories that water from the river is not good. “We knew where to get clean water from, in the river. But later intellectuals came in and defiled the river.” According to him the intellectuals poisoned the water using DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane)-a banned substance used to kill mosquitoes. Matakala is afraid that should the situation persist it will scare away tourists. “This village is growing we need bigger reservoirs.” For a village hard-hit by poverty the least government can do is provide potable water. Minister of Presidential Affairs at the BDP congress named Maun West, Ngami and Okavango among some of the constituencies hard-hit by poverty. People in the area are cattle herders but because of the persistent foot and mouth disease outbreaks markets for their cattle have become elusive.