Monday, May 21, 2007

BT primary schools as taps run dry

. Pupils health at risk
. Govt yet to pay K5m

By Rex Chikoko

Ministry of Education’s failure to pay water bills for primary schools in Blantyre City has put at risk lives of over 124,000 pupils, who have to use nearby bushes to relieve themselves, Malawi News can reveal.

Some 22 urban primary schools have been operating without running water for over six months, forcing pupils, at the schools most of which use water closet toilets, to help themselves in the bushes around the schools.

Notable primary schools that have been badly hit by the water crisis are Henry Henderson Institute (HHI), Blantyre Girls, Chilomoni, Limbe Girls, Kanjedza, Limbe, Mpingwe, Chitawira, Manja, Ndirande, Nyambadwe, Chirimba and Kapeni Demonstration. Blantyre City has 53 primary schools.

Education authorities admitted that the water situation in schools was a serious health hazard to primary school pupils and suggested closing the schools to avert an outbreak of waterborne diseases in the schools.

A Malawi News visit to Chichiri Primary School one of the badly affected schools, revealed the school is now not cutting the overgrown bush around the premises because it is now serving as ‘toilets’ mostly for grown up girls.

Chichiri Primary School deputy headmaster Wilson Khamula said the situation was ‘very’ pathetic at his school as most of the classrooms are self-contained resulting in an unbearable stench from the toilets which suffocates the students when they are learning.

Khamula said the school, which has 1,800 pupils, has been relying on the goodwill of neighbouring institutions that have been assisting them with ‘some’ water, basically to clean the toilets and reduce the stench that has been causing discomfort to pupils and teachers.

“We are really concerned with the health of the pupils. This place is littered with human excreta. We cannot stop the pupils from relieving themselves. However, the situation is embarrassing when it involves grown-up pupils, mostly girls.

“We apply chlorine to reduce the stench, at least, near the administration bloke. As for drinking water, we ask the pupils to bring from home,” he said. Scores of water bottles pupils carry from their homes were lined in front of every classroom when the Malawi News visited the school.

Ironically, the handy bush which pupils have turned into a toilet happens to be the water catchment area for Blantyre Water Board, which disconnected the water at the school because of outstanding water bills.

Khamula said the school owes the utility service provider K287,000 in unpaid bills. He said although the school reported the problem to the Blantyre Urban District Education Office, nothing has happened.

“If I had the authority, I would have closed this school,” he lamented.

Blantyre Urban District Education Office Desk Officer Enock Kanjedza, speaking on behalf of District Education Manager, said the situation in Blantyre City primary schools is due to the small allocation of funding from government for water bills.

“An accumulative water bill of primary schools in Blantyre city hovers around K400,000 a month but government only gives us K100,000. Right now we owe Water Board K5 million. This issue is being handled by both Ministries of Education and Local government,” he said.

Kanjedza said pupils are using nearby bushes around their premises to relieve themselves. He concurred with Khamula on the need to close the schools to safeguard the lives of pupils.

There has been communication between Ministry of Education and Blantyre Water Board appealing for reconnection of water in schools.

A letter dated March 1, 2007, signed by Education Ministry Principal Secretary Anthony Livuza, to Blantyre Water Board, appeals for reconnection of water. It says the disconnection of water at the learning institutions would affect the facilitation of school feeding programme underway in schools around Blantyre City the Ministry has embarked on.

The letter also said the reconnection of water in primary schools would also address the sanitation problems which “are already being experienced in the schools”.

In another letter also dated March 1, 2007, Livuza also appealed to Treasury to intervene by processing funding to Blantyre City Assembly through the National Local Government Committee.

In an interview on Thursday, Livuza said he was not in a position to know the progress on the money saying if released Treasury would channel it through Ministry of Local Government that controls assemblies, which in turn, control primary schools in assemblies.

“With the decentralization programme management of primary schools are under assemblies, Ministry of Education is only involved in policy issues,” he said.

But Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government Wezi Mjojo said the ministry referred the issue to Blantyre City Assembly to pay the water bills because the affected schools are under the assembly’s jurisdiction.

“We advised the assembly to pay using money from Property Rates. Blantyre city assembly and all other assemblies in the country are responsible for primary schools within their assembly,” she said.

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