Yesterday was Blog Action Day, so bloggers all over the world are conversing, spilling information and perspectives about water. I will talk about water availability and sanitation in Malawi; I’m here with Bamboo Lota, Inc, to research bamboo, charcoal production and deforestation practices.
As the third largest lake in Africa, Lake Malawi is inhabited by more species of fish than any other body of water in the world—several hundred kinds of cichlid fish reside here, shining and glistening with their silver and neon blue scales. Clear waves gently lap onto coarse sandy beaches, flooding the feet of the hundreds of locals flocked to do their Saturday washing of clothes, dishes and children. So many lives are connected to the water here—fishermen line the horizon like floating stars at night, kids bellyflop in soapy and splash out clean.
Unfortunately, we didn’t do much than dip our feet in the waters, as we’ve both been forewarned about the high occurrence of Bilharzia—a parasitic worm which gets to your kidneys—due to overfishing. This made us extremely curious, however, for the safety of the children splish-splashing and running naked through the waters. According to CharityWater, “Unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation cause 80% of diseases…90% of the 42,000 deaths that occur every week from unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions are to children under five years old.”
In addition, according to FANRPAN (Food, Agriculture, Natural Resources Policy Anaylsis Network), Malawi has less than 1,700 m3 of freshwater per capita—only 65% of Malawians have access to improved sanitation. Due to an impressive population growth estimate, Malawi will triple in population from just over 14 million people to 40 million by 2030. This means that water is further unavailable to a country with one of the lowest GDPs in the world, a country who already has low agricultural productivity and clean water.
Malawi’s 2015 Millenium Development Goals include achieving improved water sanitation to over six million additional residents. Challenges identified by FANRPAN facing the MDG include: “aging water systems, growing urban and peri-urban populations, high levels of non-revenue water and low cost recovery within the utilities (exacerbated by the non-payment of Government bills). Communal water points and sanitation facilities increasingly underserve market centers and small towns. Interactions between rudimentary latrines and shallow wells make sanitation particularly problematic in peri-urban areas. Financial, managerial and technical capacity are severely lacking at all levels.”
Through our visits to USAID-WALA-Emmanuel International projects, we have seen a few communities gain knowledge about water sanitation. Tippy-Taps have been installed next to rudimentary latrines (think: hole in a ground); these are literally plastic bottles attached to string and a stick pedal—a little soap is attached as well, and one can tip the bottles over to wash his or her hands right after using the bathroom. It’s a very simple design, but what else can one do without access to water piping and otherwise unclean hands?
Play pumps (a “merry-go-round” that drills up water into a tank) are also seen, although rarely, in rural areas in Zomba. These, however, are a rather controversial installment—in primary schools, kids are seen just perched atop of the pumps. When we approached one of the Play Pumps, kids posed and let us do all the pushing.
Currently, little improvement can be seen throughout Malawi. However, CharityWater concludes that more available water pumps can lead to shorter time spent trying to get water for a family, more time for gardening and sending children to school, less illnesses and deaths.
Hopefully, one day we’ll be able to come back to Lake Malawi, with less fear of parasitic worms and more hope for a countrywide facilitation for water sanitation.
If you’re interested in learning more, visit http://www.charitywater.org/whywater/ & http://blogactionday.change.org/ for more bloggers’ perspectives on water! Spend some conscious time with how you use water, think about how much water is consumed through your food (http://waterfootprint.org), and maybe even donate $1 to install a pump in developing areas!