By Charles Simengwa, Stanslous Ngosa, Moffat Chazingwa and Chusa Sichone (http://allafrica.com/stories/201506070300.html)
THE construction sector in Zambia is at an all-time high, with buildings springing up all around the country, particularly in urban areas.
It is a building rush cutting across commercial entities and private individuals who are investing heavily in picturesque houses.
This is a mark of how Zambians have learnt the advantages of becoming homeowners and, consequently, securing the future of their families.
However, beneath the construction boom is a looming threat to the water table, as borehole drilling spreads rapidly.
Plot owners are using their initiative to initiate things independently, as plots are given out before roads are made, while water and sanitation services are not provided.
This is despite the Water Supply and Sanitation Act No. 28 of 1997 placing a demand on water supply and sanitation providers to ensure efficient, affordable and sustainable services within their service areas.
Similarly, the Public Health Act, Cap 295 of the Laws of Zambia, provides rules relative to sewage and drainage of effluent waste water.
They mainly concern construction and maintenance of sewage and drainage systems, and the control of substances carried through such systems.
Local authorities are the principal administrators for purposes of these regulations, but it is easy to see that this mandate is rarely carried out.
It leaves people with no choice but to acquire the services of borehole drilling and exploration companies that have now swarmed towns and cities.
In Kitwe, the drilling of boreholes by property owners in a number of areas, especially those being opened up for residential property development, has become a common feature.
One of the areas where boreholes are being in large numbers sunk is Mukuba-Natwange, where new plots have been issued by Kitwe City Council.
Some residents interviewed said they depend on water pumped from a borehole located near a local police post.
“But there is serious rationing of water; it is only supplied early in the morning and late in the evening, and this means we have to store the commodity using containers.
“When water runs out, it becomes a big challenge because we have to wait until evening when supply is restored,” one resident said.
As a result of this, some people who can afford have resorted to sinking boreholes within their yards to avoid the hardships they have been experiencing.
Ndola is facing a similar situation as the newly-opened up residential areas such as Misundu and Mitengo have not been serviced.
With no hope of getting piped water, the inevitable cost to factor into a building plan is a borehole.
But there are dangers gathering thickly around the aquifers, or underground layers of permeable rock, sediment, or soil that yields water, and are ultimately affecting recharge zones.
According to the online Ecology Dictionary, a recharge zone is a land area into which water can infiltrate into an aquifer relatively easily, and the infiltration replenishes the aquifer.
Aquifers could range from a few square kilometres to thousands of square kilometres in size.
Encroachments on recharge zones, especially in Libala South and Chalala residential areas in Lusaka, where new housing developments have taken place, has greatly affected the ground water in the capital city.
This is evidenced by the drying up of household boreholes since the areas were previously reserved as recharge zones.
As a consequence, some households have sunk several holes in their backyards in search of water because the boreholes drilled earlier have dried up.
The environment is also affected as most drilling of boreholes is done without conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment, or even consulting experts.
Libala South was reserved as a recharge zone, but the area is now covered by buildings, thus affecting the water cycle.
No human activities were in the past years permitted to allow as much water as possible to get into the ground.
The Zambia Environmental Management Agency (ZEMA) says it has continued cautioning developers on the importance of protecting ground water.
According to ZEMA principal information officer Irene Chipili, water supply in Lusaka, which has an estimated population of about two million people, is likely to worsen in view of the growing settlements.
Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company (LWSC) public relations manager Topsy Sikalinda says the water company is concerned about the safety of water consumers.
Mr Sikalinda, in an interview recently, said some boreholes in some residential areas were sunk next to septic tanks, making the probability of water contamination high.
The situation is worsened by the building of infrastructure around dambos or paving yards, which has prevented the earth from recharging water like the one which falls as rain.
As a good example, LWSC’s biggest borehole called Shaft 5 in Lilayi area has been affected by construction works around the area, leading to a reduction in the amount of water being pumped.
Lusaka Water and Sewerage Company currently supplies 258 million litres of water
per day against the daily demand of 420 million litres.
In April 2013, the ministry of Mines, Energy and Water Development commissioned the Water Resources Management Authority (WRMA) board, which is mandated to regulate water resources throughout the country.
WRMA director Paul Kapotwe says the water drilling companies are being regulated by virtue of registering with relevant agencies such as the National Council for Construction, Drillers Association of Zambia, and the Registrar of Companies.
The Authority ensures that the companies adhere to the provisions of the Water Resources Management Act.
Some technical standards to follow include not drilling a borehole on top of a mountain, in a river, or close to a soakaway.
A soakaway is where surface water from a roof or driveway is piped to a large underground pit filled with gravel within the boundary of a property.
Interestingly, Mr Kapotwe notes that the rise in borehole drilling companies is an indication that the industry has grown, and that it provides an economic benefit for the country.
This may be true, but caution should be taken not to allow borehole drilling to spiral out of control.
The solution lies in the relevant bodies to provide the required services in new settlements in accordance with the laws.