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Watering life in absence of sources of potable water

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By Beaton Chimenya & Richard Chirombo:

NO SAFE WATER FOR USE— A woman fetches water

On a windy day in October, children drawn from Matiya Village play hide-and-seek at Likangala Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) ground, situated some 400 metres from their dwelling places.

They can play as much as they want, safe in the knowledge that, after their adventures, they will be free to bath any time they want.

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This is because water for washing and bathing has never been a problem in the area.

Not that the water is safe; far from it. The truth is that there are many sources of unsafe water, including rivers and swamps— even though such sources are increasingly coming under threat due to climate change— but nowhere to source tap water.

Prolonged dry spells, one of the products of climate change, mean struggles to access water are real. This also means finding water will, soon, become a tiresome task, especially to communities that are already dying of thirst in a land endowed with fresh water, including lakes that have become the envy of the world.

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Putting the issue of climate change in context, Trocaire, in a 2016 report, indicates that “climate change is a threat to economic growth, long-term prosperity as well as the livelihoods of already vulnerable populations” in Malawi.

OPEN SOURCE— Women depend on this water outlet

The report quotes ActionAid, a global movement of people working together to further human rights and defeat poverty for all, as bemoaning effects of climate change on communities.

Needless to say Malawi has become one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change and this has affected crop production, which is the backbone of the country’s economy. Malawi’s top forex earner is tobacco, followed by sugar and tea— crops that depend on water to flourish and water the economy with cash.

“The impacts of climate change in Malawi are being manifested in various ways such as intense rainfall, changing rainfall patterns, floods, droughts and prolonged dry spells. Small-scale producers who provide more than half [of] the world`s food supply and 70 percent of the food which feeds people in poor countries are already being impacted by climate change.

“Gogo Aisha from Salima District is 70 years old and looks after her three grandchildren. As the breadwinner of the family, she bemoans the change on climate over the years.

“‘In the past, the land was so fertile that we did not even need fertiliser. I used to harvest enough without applying fertiliser. Nowadays I have to apply fertiliser twice to harvest something. What has changed? The land is still the same but why am I not able to harvest enough anymore?” ActionAid bears witness to the impact of changes in climate.

Even International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies bear witness of the fear climate change has instilled in community members, most of them

were already finding life difficult before the sting of climate change became poison in their flesh.

The organisations, in a write-up on their page, say: “Heavy floods and an unusually strong drought have tormented the region of Nsanje in southern Malawi over the past three years. The local population is now facing starvation.

“In Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, the effects of climate change are severe, affecting all levels of society. In the rainy season of 2014–15, heavy floods hit the Southern Region. People had to flee their homes and crop fields were washed out, leaving the soil without seeds to plant in the coming season.

“The trend is that the frequency of floods and dry spells is increasing. And these climate changes are affecting the poorest people as they do not have access to modern farming techniques,” the bodies quote Roster Kufandiko, assistant Disaster Manager at the Malawi Red Cross Society, as saying.

In May 2016, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) increased its Emergency Appeal to 3,590,677 Swiss francs to support the Malawi Red Cross Society in assisting 25,000 of the most vulnerable people affected by the drought. Activities included monthly mobile cash transfers, as well as agricultural and nutritional training for farmers and their families.

No safe water in sight

In our case, we did not have to get reports of the impact of climate change from charity organisations. We simply had to travel to Zomba, where global non-profitable organisation, Evidence Action, and the Ministry of Health and Population Services have intensified the campaign of combating cases of water-borne diseases in some parts of the district.

That is how we found children, bare-chested and carefree, playing hide-and-seek at Likangala CDSS ground.

FOR HOME USE— A basin of water ready for home use

One of them, a 12-year-old boy who is in Standard Seven, said they play as much as they want because water for bathing is readily available.

“It does not matter how dirty the water is; what matters is that we are able to get rid of the dirt on pour bodies using soap and water. Our mothers know where to get the water,” he says.

The problem arises when it comes to sourcing potable water for drinking.

As Mary Jemusi, 25, one of the villagers in Matiya Village, attests, “we are involved in the eternal search for potable water, to no avail. We do not have safe sources of water here”.

Her sentiments come at a time cholera and other water-borne diseases are around the corner— considering that the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services recently announced that the wet season is around the corner, although El Niño weather phenomenon may poke its ugly face into the affairs of farmers again, and negatively affect crop production.

“We will make an announcement at the right time [as regards the 2018/19 rainfall pattern],” Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services Director, Joram Nkhokwe, said recently.

According to the department, Malawi has a sub-tropical climate, which is relatively dry and strongly seasonal. The warm-wet season stretches from November to April, during which 95 percent of the annual precipitation takes place. Annual average rainfall varies from 725mm to 2,500mm, with Lilongwe having an average of 900mm, Blantyre 1,127mm, Mzuzu 1,289mm and Zomba 1,433mm. Extreme conditions include the drought that occurred in 1991/92 season and floods of 1988/89 season. The low-lying areas such as Lower Shire Valley and some localities in Salima and Karonga are more vulnerable to floods than higher grounds.

“A cool, dry winter season is evident from May to August with mean temperatures varying between 17 and 27 degrees Celsius, with temperatures falling between 4 and 10 degrees Celsius. In addition, frost may occur in isolated areas in June and July. A hot, dry season lasts from September to October with average temperatures varying between 25 and 37 degrees Celsius. Humidity ranges from 50% to 87% for the drier months of September/ October and wetter months of January/February respectively,” reads a post on the department’s website.

However, Jemusi does not care about this. All she cares about is to have access to safe water, enough food to feed herself and members of her family and some cash, generated after selling farm produce, to buy the necessities of life.

However, her ambitions may amount to naught, for she is likely to suffer from cholera and other water-borne diseases because her area has been bearing the brunt of policy neglect.

No wonder, most people in areas around Likangala Cluster lack safe water.

To them, water taps, boreholes and wells are a luxury. All they know is water from rivers such as Phalombe.

Fortunately, Evidence Action has come forward to intervene before disaster strikes.

The organisation has planted 3,811 chlorine dispensers to promote the provision of safe water, targeting 134,212 households and 90,000 under-five children.

Evidence Action Country Director, Prince Kasinja, says the new chlorine dispenser is effective because it is put near the water source so that water users can use it every time they draw water.

In the past, project implementers could distribute packets of chlorine to individual households, making it impossible to monitor proper use of the same, or whether targeted people were using the chlorine at all.

“Previously villagers used to receive chlorine in their homes and this proved to be a health risk as water was still contaminated due to, among other factors, poor mixture and storage environment,” Kasinja says.

The new project has reached out to 84 cholera-prone villages. These include Likangala, Matiya and Chisi, which have been targeted because people consume water from open sources.

Fainesi Mbilima is one of the residents who are supporting Evidence Action in taking care of the newly planted chlorine dispensers. She describes the intervention as timely, considering that people of Mwambo often court cholera and other preventable ailments.

“These dispensers are good comparing to the chlorine we were receiving in our homes because it is tasteless and we are getting it straight from the water source without exposing it to germs,” Fainesi says.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health and Population Services, through Zomba District Health Office Chief Preventative Officer Innocent Mvula, has hailed the initiative.

But Mvula is quick to urge stakeholders in the water sector to extend such interventions to Lake Chilwa and Chisi Island, where the challenges are more pronounced than other areas.

It is believed that the Lake Chilwa Basin is hit by cholera out-breaks every three years and the last time the epidemic struck the area was three years ago.

In 2012, for example, 190 cases of cholera were registered between July and September.

This time around, community members say they have had enough of cholera cases.

It seems the journey has just started.

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