MAPUTSOE – Hundreds of villagers in Maputsoe have been grappling in water shortage crisis for almost a year now, the MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism has learnt.
Not even after the desperate residents wrote a grievance letter to the Water and Sewage Company (WASCO) last November has the situation changed.
In fact, the Centre discovered during a recent visit that the residents have sank deeper into the water crisis after they damaged distribution pipes in a desperate hunt for clean water earlier this year.
The angry villagers told the Centre they had decided to break the pipes that only appeared to distribute water to other villages, bypassing them.
They managed to access the clean water from the broken pipes, they told the Centre, but that was temporary as it was also illegal.
They suspect WASCO was angered by the damage and, in turn, refused to address the situation in Maputsoe, exacerbating the crisis.
The situation has taken its toll on a range of businesses, health centres, industrial firms and other service providing agencies in the town that serves a shared population of over 300, 000 with Hlotse, in the Leribe district, as per the 2016 population and housing census.
Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Water Emmanuel Lesoma has told the Centre the government was aware of the situation in Maputsoe, and that it was “worrying”. The PS said his ministry was working together with WASCO to address the water crisis in Maputsoe.
“The ministry has sent officers from the department of water affairs to assess how best we can assist WASCO in this problem brought by climate change. We are worried about the situation in Maputsoe because it is one of the places in the country which attract investors and it is fast growing,” Lesoma said.
Maputsoe boasts of a thriving textile industry. It is the country’s only, other than the capital Maseru, where the industrial firms have stood the test time.
However, during a recent visit, the Center witnessed in the sunny and hot weather as the villagers whisked off containers in wheelbarrows in two-way traffic. In one direction, the containers were full with water the residents fetched from nearest borehole pumps, while others were heading there in opposite direction, with the empty containers.
They pay for the water from a minimum of M2.50 depending on the size of each container. There is a booming business of water sales by a few affording individuals who have managed to erect the borehole pumps in their yards, the Centre observed.
The situation appears normal from almost everyone pushing a wheelbarrow, “because we have been doing it for a while now, since the water crisis hit us,” one of them asserts.
Most of them, behind wheelbarrows, do have the ordinary water taps erected at their homesteads, but they have been useless without water since the crisis began early last year.
Basia Letlala, who carried his two 20litre containers, said he had arrived in Ha-Moholisa, one of the villages in Maputsoe, in August 2018 “and since then there has always been water problems here. Sometimes the water would only come out at night and stop after a short period of time. For now, it has been three consecutive weeks without water at all,” Letlala said.
Him and other desperate villagers collect water from a few borehole pumps owned other residents, “and I pay M2.50 per container.”
Letlala indicated circumstances often force him sacrifice and ignore household chores, “because I can’t afford the water all the time. I earn little money”.
Due to the prevailing situation, Letlala said the villagers had resolved to cutting the bypassing pipes and intercepted water passing to other villages.
“The question is, if some pipes do have water, why don’t we get water from our taps?” he asked.
Manka Moabi, who has turned the water problem into business, having erected borehole pump, said he had decided to sell water “eight months ago, when I realised the problem was persistent. When I first dug the hole for the pump, it was only for the benefit of my family. People now pay M2.00 for a bucket; they need to pay because I also paid a lot of money for this borehole pump”.
Pulane Lebetla, another villager, told the Centre she had not seen drop of water from her tap since March 2018.
“At that time, water would come out at other places; especially at the lower part of the village, and those who are situated at the upper area would not get water at all like myself. We all don’t get any water from our taps now,” Lebetla said.
She said she used to pay for water to another resident whose tap had never dried out during the early stage of the crisis. “Unfortunately, as time went by, she did not have water anymore so I was bound to look for another villager who owned a borehole pump,” she said.
The area headman, Chief Lithelo Moholisa, said his subjects had approached him in November last year complaining about the water crisis.
“They had already approached WASCO in Maputsoe about the complaint and had been told to put their grievance in writing,” Moholisa said.
He said he had called a gathering “where we wrote a letter to the management of WASCO in Maputsoe, but unfortunately the letter was reversed and we were told to readdress it to WASCO management at head office in Maseru,” he said.
The chief said they had done as required but they never received a response from the company.
But WASCO refuted the chief’s claim, saying: “There has been a couple of letters from Maputsoe regarding this matter and the response (from WASCO) has been in a form of letters, community gatherings and meetings,” said WASCO spokesperson Lineo Moqasa.
“There is also a water committee which coordinates WASCO and the community,” she added.
The Centre also took a tour in the busy Maputsoe CBD (Central Business District) and talked to few businesspeople about the crisis.
Most of them indicated how the situation continued to cripple their businesses “to a point where some of us will have to close down if the problem persists,” said ’Mareitumetse Makhata, a tailor and a hairdresser.
Makhata explained, “there is no running water at all in this town; we buy water from the nearby villages where people have borehole pumps and it costs us M7.50 per container because I pay M5 for someone to fetch the water in addition to M2.50 for the water”.
Food caterers, taxi operators and other business agents said they were also struggling. They buy water from others who saw the opportunity of erecting water tanks in the CBD and selling the water at M3 per a bucket of 10litres and less.
The crisis had also affected the textile factories at Ha-Maqele, the Centre heard. The workers said most of time there was water in the morning, and then later during the day the taps dried up.
Meanwhile, Lesoma has indicated that when water crisis started to hit Maputsoe last year, his ministry gave away one of its borehole pumps to WASCO to supply the area. But due to the escalating challenges of climate change, he said the company was currently not able to supply adequate water in Maputsoe.
“We had to send officers to Maputsoe to check all the boreholes that the department has so that they could be used to supply water. The next step is to erect as many borehole pumps as possible in Maputsoe and ensure that water drained from beneath was clean enough for human consumption.
“We have discussed with WASCO that during this process, the water that will be pumped from beneath the surface should not be wasted but also distributed in tankers to other villages where there is dire need,” Lesoma said.
She nonetheless cushioned that they have resorted to re-drilling the defunct boreholes and add two more boreholes as an interim solution while the villagers await a five-year urban water supply plan that on the pipeline.
But the challenge, the PS noted, was that the Ministry of Finance had currently closed orders for 2018/2019 financial year, “which means we not be able to make orders for the job as soon as we had hoped”.
However, the PS has arranged with WASCO to come up with an alternative plan pending the finance ministry to open orders in the next fiscal year.
Lesoma indicated the long-term plan was to ensure that the entire northern region of the country is secured with clean water.
“Now that the Metolong project, which is part of the urban water supply, is done, we have already started with the plan to supply the northern urban areas which include Maputsoe, Leribe and Botha- Bothe. Plans are afoot to erect a big dam along the Hlotse River, which will supply the three districts with clean water. Currently we are doing the environmental impact assessment for design of the project”.
The government has secured funds from the World Bank and the Arab Bank for Development in Africa (BADEA) for the project.