By Horace Nyaka:
As Malawi battles the worst cholera outbreak in a decade, the unavailability of potable water to the majority of the population has, again, been highlighted as one of the major causes of the outbreak.
In Lilongwe, tests done in a number of locations, where most people do not have piped water, indicate that shallow well water is contaminated.
This poses serious health threats including cholera to communities.
Easily accessible potable water remains an important catalyst for development of any country.
At least 300 kilometres from the capital, in a rural section of Chiradzulu, a community that had never had potable water has turned a single borehole into a piped water system, thanks to international aid agency World Vision.
Trinity Yamungu, a 14-year-old standard six learner at Mbulumbuzi Primary School, is one of the 3,300 people benefitting from the piped water that has been connected to her school from the water scheme at the nearby James Kanono Village in Traditional Authority Mpama in the Southern Region district.
The school had stayed for three years without water as a nearby borehole was out of operation.
This forced learners and teachers to be going to a stream a kilometre away to fetch water.
“Whenever we wanted to get water for drinking or cleaning toilets, we had to cover a long distance. We would miss lessons apart from getting tired,” Trinity, who aspires to become a nurse, says.
Her teacher Sama Duwa, who doubles as a girls’ matron, admits that the installing of piped water facilities at school has improved sanitation and hygiene.
“The absence of water at the school was affecting the girls more, especially during their periods. It was also difficult to ensure hygiene in the toilets,” Duwa says.
Today, through the piped water scheme, the school’s 1,400 learners are enjoying access to safe water in the area through the project, which is being managed by Mpama Water Users Association which decided to extend the piped water to the education facility in 2021.
Rose Msulumba, Treasurer of Mpama Water Users Association, explains that before 2017, people in the area were using water from swamps.
“We had no borehole or water taps. Most of us relied on swamps as water sources. In 2017, World Vision Malawi gave us a borehole. It was great relief and 200 people were benefitting from it,” Msulumba said.
She, however, admits that the borehole was not enough for the village and surrounding villages.
“While our village had a borehole, the other villages did not, and people were still drinking unclean water from swamps because it was tiresome for them to come here and get water,” Msulumba explains.
To address the problem, World Vision Malawi provided the association with a solar-powered piped water system which started operating in July 2021.
“Using the same borehole, we have managed to connect six villages to the water system. We have tanks and a solar-powered pump which allows us to store water and distribute it using gravity.
“We have nine water kiosks in those villages plus the local primary school, which was also facing serious water challenges,” chairperson for the association Harvey Malembo says.
World Vision Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Officer for Chiradzulu, Bamusi Pilima, says the communities’ major contribution to the water system is their ownership and willingness to manage it.
“We provided them with experts who put together the system and trained them in basic maintenance and safety. They are doing the rest themselves and this gives us hope that they will keep it and take care of it,” Pilima says.
He adds that the locals have formed local structures that manage water points.
To ensure that the system is running and serviced whenever there is a need, every house hold pays K250 per month which goes to the association.
“We have a village and savings group where this money is loaned out at an interest and the proceeds are used to buy spare parts and pay local artisans when there is a fault,” Malembo says.