MASERU – Thousands of families around the country yesterday entered their sixth day without water as the Water and Sewerage Company (Wasco) battled to restore supplies.
For a week now Lesotho has been plunged into a crippling water crisis that Wasco blames on a burst water pipes caused by floods.
Five of the country’s 10 districts were still without water by late last night.
Residents of Maseru, Butha-Buthe, Leribe, Mohale’s Hoek and Quthing had to rely on water from unprotected wells.
Those who could afford bought bottled water.
Schools, hospitals and clinics were forced to shut down.
Businesses like bakeries and textile factories which rely heavily on water suspended operations.
Wasco’s inability to make contingent measures to provide alternative sources of water to the desperate households only made the situation worse.
There are now fears that the water crisis could trigger a major health crisis.
An outbreak of diseases like cholera and diarrhoea is quite possible if the water crisis persists.
The crisis started on Monday when pipes which transport water from the dams to the water treatment plants were choked by mud during the heavy rains that pounded Lesotho last week.
The pipes from Mohakare River and Maqalika Dam, Maseru’s main sources of water, burst due to increased pressure caused by sustained floods.
As a result Wasco was unable to purify water, leaving almost the whole of Maseru without supplies.
The water stations in Butha-Buthe, Leribe, Mohale’s Hoek and Quthing were submerged by the floods making it impossible to purify and pump water.
But with a population of more than 300 000, Maseru was the most affected.
On Friday afternoon Wasco’s information officer Lineo Moqasa said repairs on the damaged pipes were almost complete.
She said they were hoping the engineers would be done by yesterday morning.
“When Mohokare water station could not supply water we opted for Maqalika but the pressure of water from Mohokare could not allow the Maqalika water to pass to the tunnel.
“The pipes were removed and then taken back to pump water but the water could not get to the Maseru Supply Station where it is purified. The heavy rains were a crisis beyond our control but we have been working day and night to repair the breakages,” she said.
Yet by late yesterday afternoon water supply had not been restored in most areas in Maseru.
The other four districts were still without water.
Yesterday afternoon the Sunday Express called Moqasa to get an update.
This time she said the engineers were about to put finishing touches to their repairs.
Water will be available soon, she said.
But by the time this paper went to print (9:30pm) most areas in Maseru still did not have water.
The crisis has exposed the country’s weak disaster management systems.
Wasco responded by sending a water tank to Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, the country’s only referral hospital.
Wasco only has seven mobile water tanks for the whole country, according to Moqasa.
But in a crisis like this one these tanks are not enough to supply water to everyone.
Even then, they can only supply water for domestic use and not for industries.
The cost of business lost during the crisis runs into millions of maloti because most companies were forced to stop production.
Production in the textile industry, Lesotho’s biggest exporter and employer, was affected. So were government offices.
Some of the schools in Maseru like St Catherines High School and Machabeng College temporarily shut down.
So did the Lesotho College of Education and the Centre for Accounting Studies.
A teacher from Thamae Pre-school, ’Mathata Mahlatsi, said they asked students to bring their own water.
“We could not close the school because we are a day care for them while their parents are at work,” Mahlatsi said.
“Their parents are factory workers who leave them from 6am and take them at 6pm so sending them home would mean creating a problem for their parents too.”
She said the pre-school could not afford to buy disposable nappies for the infants.
“We are trying to save the water that they bring for making their bottle and for them to drink,” she said.
Toilets at Queen Elizabeth II are currently blocked amid fears of a disease outbreak if the water crisis persists.
“There are two water tanks that are placed outside the wards that were filled with water by Wasco trucks,” one patient said.
“We draw water from the tanks for bathing and washing the nappies,” she said.
We have been assured that the water is clean and we can drink it but my relatives bring bottled water for me, said the new mother.
On Friday afternoon patients, nurses and doctors were queuing at the water tank to draw water.
The doctors were drawing water for their own personal use.
A nurse who refused to be named said their workload has now increased because they have to fetch water instead of attending to patients.
“We are now supposed to fill up the sinks in the wards with water to help the patients who cannot go outside,” the nurse said.