Women in Chikwawa North are spending nights at few water points at their disposal with some sources even harbouring dangerous germs. THOMAS KACHERE digs into the struggles which the United Nations (UN) wants wiped out for the majority of global citizens by the end of this decade.
Clean water oils good health, but for 20 percent of Malawi’s population, there are no safe sources at their disposal.
In fact, over 80 in every 100 citizens do not access safely managed water sources despite that they may access improved water sources.
In Chikwawa North, there are areas that seem to have been forever neglected.
Women and girls scramble for a lone unprotected water source where they sometimes spend nights as they wait for the precious liquid to accumulate.
When we arrived in the area, Elita Fraction and her peers had already spent five hours at their nearest water point and they were still counting the hours.
They had got used to waiting for their turn at the borehole into the cold night.
Another woman we found at the borehole, Alesi Khumbulani, 32, claims women have been attacked by thugs at night on their way to or from the borehole.
Khumbulani, with a broken arm, says she has no choice but to endure the pain in her search for water.
“It sometimes happens that children who help you with fetching water are not at home. It means you have to go to the borehole yourself. On the way, we meet several challenges including being attacked by thugs.
“Additionally, families are breaking apart because women spend time out searching for water. Husbands begin to suspect something might be going on,” Khumbulani says.
At around 11 at night, we found scores of girls and women waiting for their turns to draw water from the only source in the area.
Some of them were lying on their wrappers, others on the bare ground, as they kept watching the queue subside before them.
Of course, there are men who escort their wives as they trek to source water from the borehole. They do not want their loved ones to fall victim to attacks by thugs prowling in wayside bushes.
One such man is Nickson Ranger, who walked behind his wife with a cell-powered torch in his right hand and knife in the other.
“She asked for my help. I would not let her go alone,” Ranger says. “Danger lurks everywhere on the way to the borehole.”
Villagers from Chindoko, Tsegulani, Mwazaonga, Khumbulani and Nkhwangwa in Chikwawa North depend on one borehole.
“We are sleeping alone in our houses because women spend nights out fetching water. There is a well which serves both animals and humans but it is not safe.
“This problem has been there for ages. We have tried to engage authorities but nothing happens. Our lives are at great risk,” says Charles Thabwa, a resident of Chikwawa North.
A concerned youth, Harvey Chimaliro, says what people in the area are going through is an unfair punishment.
He calls on well-wishers to come in and meet the needs of residents of the area.
On his part, Chikwawa North Member of Parliament, Owen Chomanika, says he is aware of the water problem and that he has plans to address it.
“We are talking to organisations that are working in our area so that they can look into this issue. We are also working on financing mechanisms to supplement the water development fund and the Constituency Development Fund.
The bigger idea is to bring piped water to these people so that they are able to access it in their localities,” Chomanika says.
He adds that if the women are able to easily access water, they will be saved from the threats they face as they trek to faraway water sources.
Health rights activist Maziko Matemba says denying people access to potable water is as good as condemning them to death.
Chikwawa District Water Officer Rester Msunza says the district has a total of 755 water taps, of which 435 are functional and 2,228 boreholes, of which 1,872 are functional— representing 9.2 percent and 82.9 percent coverage, respectively.
Sustainable Development Goal 6 of the UN asks countries to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
These people in Chikwawa North do vote, pay taxes and expect a share of development and, yet, they get exposed to waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea everyday due to the unavailability of clean water.