It’s just water, but a nightmare to access in rural areas

It’s just water; a free commodity to be specific since it pours from heaven annually enriching Malawi with a number of water bodies; however, at 40 years, Nancy Petro from Masanduko Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Ngabu in Chikwawa District has never accessed tap water let alone water from a borehole.

Every day, Nancy Petro together with other women in Masanduko Village leave their homes in the early hours and endure a 40 minute walk to fetch water from spring water wells.

The sight of communities carrying empty jerry cans is what hits you first when you approach the village as people spend much of their time searching for water in nearby valleys.

“If I am to fetch water, I have to wake up very early before everyone. After fetching two to five jerry cans, water disappears again and I have to rely on other natural spring water wells where my children have to dip jerry cans into the well to draw water,” says Petro.

According to Petro, lack of boreholes has forced the community to use water from unprotected sources.

“Clean water is greatly needed here. The water in the few shallow wells is not safe although we consume it,” she said.

While access to safe, affordable drinking water is not a problem in industrialized countries, many Malawians like Nancy Petro still rely on shallow, hand dug wells or surface water bodies.

Masanduko Village in Chikwawa District is just one example of many places where access to clean water is lagging behind.

According to Water for People which is implementing a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) project in the district, 65 percent of people in Chikwawa have access to potable water and sanitation services.

Data accessed from Pump Aid, official estimates claim roughly 2.4 million people living in rural Malawi are without access to a safe water source, but the actual number may be twice as high – largely due to increasingly non-functional water points and a rapidly growing population.

The population of Malawi currently stands at 17.2 million and continues to rise, with 12.7% of the population lacking access to improved water sources, 69% without treated, sanitary drinking water and nearly half (47.7%) of rural populations having to travel 30 minutes or more to obtain their drinking water.

The fact that nearly 60 percent of Malawians are subsistence farmers, and a further 20 percent are small-scale farmers increases their vulnerability to the lack of access to safe water.

A lattest UNICEF report says water-borne diarrhoeal diseases are the second biggest killer of children under 5 years in Malawi – making the need for more clean water among millions of people in Malawi.

Poor quality water can have serious health implications including: the increased prevalence of water-borne diseases such as Cholera, Typhoid, and Dysentery including higher rates of child mortality and greater chances of infection amongst mothers and newborns.

The Government of Malawi however prioritizes the provision of; portable, clean and safe drinking water to its citizens.

This is envisaged by the numerous initiatives being put in place including President Peter Mutharika’s launch of the Likhubula-Blantyre Water Project in Mulanje which will permit the extraction of water from Mulanje Mountain to Blantyre City and surrounding areas.

“Clean water is one of my priorities and my government will ensure that people have access to portable water. This project will not only benefit people of Blantyre, but also here in Mulanje, Chiradzulu, Thyolo and also the Malawi University of Science and Technology- MUST,” said the President.

When completed, the MK16.7 billion project will reduce water shortage in the said areas.

The President also disclosed that various other water projects will soon take shape which will eradicate the water problem in the whole country.

Mutharika cited the Lake Malawi Water Project and the Bwanje Valley Water Project as some projects which will make a difference in the water sector.

He also said another water project in the pipeline would see water being pumped from Lake Malawi, passing through Salima, Dowa before reaching Lilongwe.

Blantyre Water Board (BWB) Chairperson, James Naphambo believes the new Likhubula-Blantyre Water Project in Mulanje will benefit many Malawians once completed.

According to Naphambo, water will be drawn from the Likhubula River and moved down 50 kilometers in pipes using gravity fed system before it is treated at a plant in Nguludi in Chiradzulu.

From Nguludi, it will be distributed to parts of Chiradzulu and Thyolo, especially at the Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST) with the rest going to Blantyre.

“We are expecting to draw at least 20 million litres of water from the Likhubula on a daily basis and that is plenty water to ease the current water shortage challenges,”Naphambo said.

Although official figures show that Malawi has 90 percent water supply coverage, the number of people with reliable water access is far lower. Many hand pumps are broken, leaving people with no choice but to go back to unsafe water sources.

United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) states that water scarcity affects more than 40 percent of people around the world, an alarming figure that is projected to increase with the rise of global temperatures as a result of climate change.

Although 2.1 billion people have gained access to improved water sanitation since 1990, dwindling supplies of safe drinking water is a major problem impacting every continent.

Ensuring universal access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030 as stipulated in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires the country invest in adequate infrastructure, provide sanitation facilities, and encourage hygiene at every level.

Protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems such as forests, mountains, wetlands and rivers is essential if Malawi is to mitigate water scarcity to people like Nancy Petro.

Like much of sub-Saharan Africa, Malawi is making little progress in the area of water and sanitation due to several compounding issue such as; rapid population growth, weak economic performance, inadequate resources contributed by the international community and low levels of education and technical capacity among rural populations.

As water development plans are currently being implemented, it is therefore important that people like Nancy from Masanduko Village are reached with tap water late alone boreholes.

Source: Malawi News Agency – MANA