By Mary A. Parmelee

Cholera sweeps through Malawi communities over and over—and with it comes death. Victims suffer severe dehydration because of the loss of water and chloride ions through continuous diarrhea. Endemic throughout the southeastern African country and other areas with poor sanitation, cholera is spread through contaminated water and food.

Always a local problem
Annual cholera outbreaks in Ndirande—a squatter community on the outskirts of the country’s largest city, Blantyre—are the result of overflowing pit latrines and broken drainage systems. Solid waste and human excreta line the streets, and children play on mounds of garbage.

A few kilometers away, the local women of Kuntaja and Kunthembwe have to walk long distances to collect safe water; however, not everyone does. Some villagers get their water from shallow wells, streams and ponds—all of which are susceptible to pollution from animals, human industry and runoff. Only 10 percent of the people in Kuntaja and Kunth-embwe have access to latrines. And so—with inadequate water supply and minimal sanitation—the two communities have suffered from repeated cholera outbreaks.

In the rural area of Phalombe, water was ranked as one of the greatest needs for community advancement. About 75 percent of the people in the village of Mkhumba wash clothes and water animals in the same stream that supplies their water for cooking and drinking. The rest of the village draws water from a borehole, but there’s constant cross-contamination between those who drink well water and those who drink from the stream. Water-related diseases are prevalent, and most children under the age of five have stomach parasites.

The problems are the same throughout Malawi, which is one of the poorest countries in Africa. Ninety percent of the people live in rural areas, where one or two wells serve as many as 500 households.

As in most African countries, water is the responsibility of women and children. Although men take responsibility for borehole design and construction, they’re rarely involved with getting water as a domestic chore. Several Malawi government ministries are working to increase men’s participation in all areas concerning water and women’s participation in community development. In cooperation with government priorities, Water For People’s Malawi Country Program works to ensure women are involved in all steps of decision making, design and construction of local projects.

Well-by-well solution
WFP’s first project is providing simple wells and hygiene education in Kuntaja and Kunthembwe. The primary objective of the project is to reduce the walking distance to safe water sources by drilling five boreholes and installing five Afridev pumps. The Afridev pump is a handpump, which can pump water from up to 45-60 meters below ground surface. Routine maintenance is carried out with minimal training and only one tool is required for maintenance of the pump.

In much of Malawi, borehole drilling is the best option because of the flat topography of the Great Rift Valley and the central plateaus. The Malawi Ministry of Water and Sanitation recommends the Afridev pump because it’s locally made, easily maintained and the cost is low.

WFP’s country coordinator, Alfred Mhone, worked with an indigenous non-governmental organization (NGO), Freshwater Project, on the technical study to identify the communities’ needs and the locations for the wells. Drilling began this fall in Kuntaja and Kunthembwe and pumps were being installed as well.

The second part of the project is to train five local community teams in safe water storage, oral rehydration therapy, hand washing and other hygiene practices. In turn, these teams will educate other members of their communities.

The Kuntaja-Kunthembwe project is the model for additional collaboration with the Freshwater Project. The budget for the project is $20,000 and will directly benefit 100 families, or 500 people.

Priority for sustainability
For hygiene education and a pit latrine project in Ndirande, WFP is working with an organization that focuses on low-income earners because of their vulnerability to exploitation and health hazards. A workshop to train residents in the construction, cleanup, and repair of pit latrines will use 100 homes as models. A community-based team will help educate Ndirande’s 75,000 residents through mini-dramas, leaflets and door-to-door campaigns. With a cost of $5,000, the project directly affects 100 homes and indirectly benefits the entire community.

In Mkhumba, WFP is working with the Likulezi Community Cares Organization to drill three boreholes and install Afridev pumps. In addition to health education, a local committee will be trained to maintain the wells.

One of the principles Water For People applies in determining what projects to undertake is the sustain-ability of the project with local responsibility after WFP is gone. In Ndirande, Kuntaja, Kunthembwe and Mkhumba, local committees are learning not only how to maintain their pumps and wells, but why proper sanitation and clean water are so important to their survival.

About the author
Mary A. Parmelee is editor of Mainstream, a monthly publication of the American Water Works Association in Denver. The article above first appeared in Mainstream’s November 2000 issue. It’s reprinted here with the permission of the author and Water For People.


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