Lihagule Dispensary: Where Expectant Mothers Bring their Own Water (Tanzania)
It’s almost a week since Gostake Haule gave birth to a baby girl, Rachel. Though she was lucky to deliver her bundle of joy safely, her experience at the hospital is not something she will soon forget. “When I went into labour I took the normal things women take with them to hospital, but my relatives also had to take a 20 litre bucket of water while accompanying me to Lihagule dispensary for delivery,” says Gostake.
While being discharged from the dispensary, she was surprised to hear the nurse asking her relatives to collect her bed sheets and return them after washing. They did so, giving back the cleaned sheets after a few days so that they could be used by other patients. The problem of water shortage is so severe in Lihagule, located in a semi-arid part of Southern Tanzania's Masasi Ward in Ludewa district that patients including expectant mothers, have to carry their own water to the dispensary. In a bid to end the water woes of its residents, the Lihagule village government is urging the central government to help it establish a water project. Pressure from residents has at least prompted Ludewa's current Member of Parliament (MP), Deo Filikunjombe, to address the issue. Filikunjombe says, “I have already shared my responsibility of buying a water tanker for the dispensary. The onus now rests with the village government to get it transported from Njombe to the facility." Unkept promises by the area's previous political representative and bungling by the authorities has brought about a tragic situation in Lihagule. The village's water pipes were removed in order to be replaced by a more efficient pipeline system – but in a piquant twist, the new pipes were never put into place. This has left the village literally high and dry.
Rues Lihagule resident Agusta Haule, “I too was asked to bring a bucket of water with me for delivery. Water shortage is a big problem not only at the dispensary but also in the village.” Fortunately, it was raining when Gostake was taken to the dispensary. Like others in the village, her family had gathered rainwater from house roofs and also collected rainwater at the dispensary which was quite helpful. The nurse at the dispensary, Maraim Mpangala, confirms, "Water shortage in the area adversely affects the services here.” Mpangala, who is the dispensary’s only employee, has to walk long distances to fetch water for the facility from the only pond in the village. “The problem is so acute that I am forced to ask expectant mothers to bring water along when coming here for delivery,” says the 50-year old nurse. A delivery consumes nearly 20 litres of water. Not just expectant mothers, all patients are bearing the brunt of the water shortage. The dispensary serves Lihagule’s 1450 households. The whole exercise of fetching water takes Mpangala nearly eight hours in a day, drastically reducing the time she gets to serve her patients.
Source of the Water Problem
Lack of water consumes a lot of time of the womenfolk who have to go in search of it. Lihagule’s Executive Officer, Marko Mituba confirms that women and children walk for almost eight hours to get water from the village’s only source in Nyantivilili area. Villagers are even forced to skip bathing for long durations. “It is common for pupils to attend school without bathing, while water to wash their school uniforms is hardly available. The teachers too understand the state of affairs,” says villager Avers Augusta. Adds Mituba, “The pond water is not clean enough, putting the villagers’ health at risk. During the rainy season the water turns muddy, causing diseases like diarrhoea.”
In fact, water was earlier being supplied to a majority of Lihagule’s residents through a water project till Ludewa's then MP Prof. Raphael Mwaliosi directed that some changes be made to improve the supply. The water project’s nearly 20 year-old six inch water pipe was to be replaced by a more efficient and narrower three-inch pipe which was expected to bring the supply to all the villagers. However, though the old pipes were removed it has been a long wait for the villagers as no new pipes have been installed yet.
“We were promised a new water pipe by the MP but nothing has happened to date,” says Mituba. The district water engineer’s office too has not provided any answers regarding completion of the project. Villagers Demand a Water Project
Augusta recalls that Filikunjombe had promised to provide a solution for the water problem after being elected. “He had asked us to give him three years because there was a lot to do…maybe he will do something this year”, she hopes. When contacted, Filikunjombe said, “Water shortage is a problem burdening many other parts of my constituency.” Expressing his inability to solve the problem alone, he urged the people to work with the village government and councillors to tide over the water problem. “I need everyone’s support,” he said. On being questioned about the replacement of the old pipes, the MP said the Chancellor would provide answers.
Villagers are disappointed at the way district authorities are handling the matter, with the area not having any infrastructure for water storage either. However, the Lihagule village administration plans to take up the matter again with the district authorities and press for further action. According to the National Water Policy, 2002 and the Water Act 2009, citizens have to establish water projects in their areas through their local governments. The central government assists them only when the cost of the project is too high for the local government to afford on its own. The District Water Engineering department is supposed to work closely with the village government in carrying out feasibility studies on water projects and in providing technical advice.
There is some hope for the dispensary at least, with construction of a rainwater harvesting system underway, even though it is progressing at a snail’s pace. With rains in this semi-arid region being erratic and the water harvesting technology being rain-dependent, the system is likely to be functional for only a short interval in the year during the brief rainy season. The Lihagule village administration and residents, nevertheless, are determined to make authorities accountable for the mystery of their missing pipes.
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Article by Sauli Giliard
Sauli Giliard works as Programme Officer in Daraja Development, Tanzania.
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