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Putting smiles on people’s faces with potable water

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SAFE— A girl learner draws water from a safe source

Thirty-eight-year-old Fales Manda cannot believe it that, just six years ago, she was in an unwelcome relationship with problems such as swollen legs, physical and mental exhaustion.

“I was not happy with the situation but there was nothing I—and fellow women as well as girls from Group Village Head Paiva 1, Ngabu, in Chikwawa District—could do about it.

“Because we were covering long distances to get to the nearest water point, we could be nursing swollen legs once back home. We were also physically and mentally exhausted because of the same reason. Where there is no potable water nearby, women suffer a lot to fetch water for household and other uses,” said the mother of four.

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To make matters worse, the water was, for whatever reason, salty.

Every day, 4,000 people could drink that water, exposing themselves to water-borne diseases.

“Cases of people being taken ill were commonplace,” she said.

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This was, in an ideal world, not supposed to be the case, considering that the commodity pours freely from the clouds year-on-year, enriching Malawi’s countless water bodies.

However, access to clean water has been a tall order for the majority of Malawians.

Poor quality water can, according to the World Health Organisation, have serious health implications on people. Challenges include the prevalence of water-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and dysentery.

Not just that; in other cases, the challenge may lead to higher child mortality rates, apart from increasing chances of infection among mothers and newborns.

While Malawi has significant groundwater resources, they are not easily accessible to rural populations, who face the double predicament of having no infrastructure of note.

If the infrastructure is there, then it is inadequate.

This is the case in another area in Chikwawa District, namely Tsamba, where poverty and the lack of clean water create fractures that cut through society — producing rifts in families and communities and hardships for girls and women such as Manda.

In 2017, Water For People, an international organisation, implemented a project with financial support from the Scottish government.

The initiative was implemented in partnership with the University of Strathclyde (Scotland).

The project sought to address the challenge of sinking saline boreholes through a curbing method.

According to Water For People Country Director Ulemu Chiluza, the method seals saline aquifers and minimises chances of letting saline water into wells.

Chiluza said his organisation tried to apply the recommended method from the project in Tsamba area using a number of drillers and was partially successful as some sites still proved to be difficult.

However, with support from Charity, Water for People sunk four exploratory boreholes to see if community members could have access to fresh water using deep boreholes.

However, this proved to be a challenge due to high salinity levels.

“From the four wells, one was saline, one was dry and only two were successful. The successful exploratory well in Tsamba, with a yield of five litres per second, has been further developed into a water scheme propelled by solar energy with 16 taps serving eight villages on a radius of 4.5 kilometres with a total population of 4,845 including a school,” he said.

The water is pumped from the ground into a tank, where it is gravitated to 16 water taps that are distributed to three village heads namely Tsamba, Paiva and Major.

According to Chiluza, the facility is serving 4,845 people.

Chiluza disclosed that studies have shown that 44 percent of the world’s population depends on groundwater.

However, the number is huge in Malawi because the majority of community members rely on groundwater as a source of the commodity.

Group Village Tsamba hailed the Water For People initiative, saying his subjects were now able to access potable water.

“A healthy person is a productive person and, now that we have clean and accessible water, we are able to meaningfully contribute to the development of the country starting from the community level all the way to the national level. Our children are able to go to school with no problems. We have clean and durable clothes because the water we use is not salty,” he said.

Ministry of Water and Sanitation Deputy Director for Water Supply Phideria Moyo, who visited project sites in Chikwawa, was equally elated.

“We know that we, as government, are supposed to take a leading role in ensuring that each and every citizen has access to potable water. And, today, Water For People has challenged us to do more.

“We, as a government, are readily available to offer technical advice where need be so that the project is sustainable,” she said.

Demand for water is expected to increase by 2050 as the world’s population is forecast to grow by one-third to more than nine billion, according to the United Nations.

As climate change’s negative effects are becoming widely felt, cases of drought are becoming commonplace in Southern Africa, Malawi inclusive, thereby taking a heavy toll on rural lives and economies.

With climate change here to stay, however, providing potable water to marginalised communities will become an uphill battle. With focus, though, the Malawi Government and development partners can put a smile not only on the people of Tsamba area but many other faces in Chikwawa and beyond.

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