The shame of a cartel making one pay through the nose
There are ranges of hills to the east of the village with at least three perennial springs in two of the forested hills. Two spring waters form part of the tributaries that flows swiftly downhill to join a big river that was known as River D. I say known because presently River D is a dry seasonal channel – flowing during those three wet months before petering out. We shall see how the river died a slow death.
The villagers came together over four decades ago and decided to make better use of the forest resources by piping the spring water to all homesteads. Each cluster came with own water project group and members contributed. Over an extended period running to a couple of years, the members bought pipes and first fixed a water point where residents of a particular area would access this commodity from. Everyone was happy as they could get clean water unlike that of the dirty River D.
The rosy narrative began changing and what would have been done at first - piping water to each homestead - was rethought and here the script was different. By this time some people, through underhand deals, had elected themselves as the bona fide water officials complete with offices. Residents were told they have to pay a connection fee to have taps at their doorsteps. This was besides to one buying own pipes of a singular diameter to be connected.
And a law of a kind was passed to the effect that if one was found giving out water, as in allowing their neighbours who were not yet connected to fetch same from their homesteads, would face some sanctions. These included a complete disconnection, fining, or both. The option for the unlucky ones was to go to the river. And by this time the river water had turned into a strange colour or at times had a discernible odour.
To make matters worse, the springs were privatized by these unelected officials. They determined from which spring each cluster would get water from. The only hope for many was to construct concrete water tanks or buy plastic and metal ones to catch rain water with.
With coming years and the changing climate, the water issue became a chronic problem for many, except for the rich who could be supplied in plenty and the poor rationed. In fact the cartel had invested in a water bowser and would replenish the rich’ storage tanks. They ensured there was no competitions by having vigilantes turn away any water bowser attempting to supply the commodity from outside the village. For ‘inclusion’, the cartel has several water selling points in every cluster where those not yet connected can buy from.
The whole village was under the cartel. To make matters worse, River D, which had reduced to a trickle owing to uncontrolled farming in riparian areas, was diverted to a private dam where a tycoon is doing fish farming, rendering the river course to a dry channel.
Those who thought of investing in commercial water business by sinking boreholes got it rough. Some geologists were paid to influence the environment management authority that any sinking of boreholes in an area characterized as geological unstable would be catastrophic. The reason given was a low water table and drilling to a depth of a hundred feet and beyond would interfere with tectonic plates. And such bullcrap was accepted by government officials, who passed the verdict the springs were adequate for the community water needs.
Today the water cartel is a powerful group. It is headed by a man simply known as the ‘Chief’, because other water chairmen in every cluster are under him. The Chief, also known as ‘Custodian of custodians’, can never stand anyone questioning about water. He’ll take one headlong.
For the poor villagers, they have no choice but to pay exorbitantly for the precious commodity. Irrespective whether you get a drop or not, the choices are only two: either pay upfront or be forced to pay with penalties. And nobody has ever heard of an annual general meeting or election of new officials since the cartel took over.
*Mathina here is a fictitious name for a real village