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The week Wasco went to sleep

THE water crisis that has hit five of the country’s 10 districts entered its sixth day yesterday.

Maseru, Butha-Buthe, Leribe, Mohale’s Hoek and Quthing were still without water at the time of going to print last night.

The Water and Sewerage Company (Wasco) blamed the crisis on burst water pipes.

We are however worried that a mere breakage in pipes could sink nearly half the country into a water crisis.

Shocking too is the fact that it has taken Wasco more than a week to sort out the mess.

While Wasco was dithering – although they say they were working hard – desperate residents resorted to unprotected wells to get water supplies while those well-heeled amongst us had to make do with bottled water.

Schools and hospitals went without water for days.

Business worth millions of maloti was lost because companies could not function without water.

In that time all we have heard from Wasco are promises after promises.

What the past week has taught us is that Wasco just does not have proper disaster management systems and its infrastructure has been found wanting.

The same applies to the country as a whole.

Wasco was neither prepared nor equipped for such a disaster.

Its seven mobile water tanks were just not enough to help ease the water crisis.

It is bad enough that the company has, over the years, dismally failed to provide potable water to the majority of the population in a country that makes millions of maloti through exporting water to South Africa every year.

That Wasco can fail, for a week, to supply water to a tiny city like Maseru because of a mere pipe breakage is a scandal of a monumental magnitude.

It’s a serious indictment on those running the company. 

If it takes Wasco a week to sort out a problem caused by relatively small floods like we had last week then one wonders what will happen if there is a heavier flood disaster like the one that hit Australia and parts of South Africa this year.

One wonders what would have happened if the 1.8 million people in this country relied on piped water.

A catastrophe would have occurred.

It’s by sheer luck that we have not had an outbreak of cholera or diarrhoea in the five districts that have gone for a week without water. 

Perhaps what has helped us as a country avoid a major disaster from this water crisis is that the majority of people in our major towns, including Maseru, use pit latrines.

But our towns are gradually shifting towards modern sewerage systems and we might not be so fortunate next time around.

Already Maseru’s sewerage system is going through a major revamp under the Millennium Challenge Account-funded sewerage modernisation project.

More people will have potable water.

More will have toilets in their homes.

Imagine what would happen if something disastrous happens to the system and Wasco goes to sleep like it did this week.

Maseru will be inhabitable and many lives could be lost to diseases.

To avoid the disasters that might happen if these modern systems fail Wasco must revamp its crisis management systems.

The company should start behaving like one that provides the most essential human need – water.

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