Esther has been living in Emoneni village in Malawi since 1972, but it has taken until now for them to get access to clean water.
Water is essential to life and yet the World Health Organisation estimates that, globally, at least 2 billion people are still drinking from a water source contaminated with faeces.
In the Manyamula region of Malawi, Find Your Feet have worked with communities for years to support families to improve their farming techniques. Now Find Your Feet are building on this work using the health and sanitation knowledge of Health Poverty Action. Together we are working with rural communities to build toilets, educate on the spread of disease and drill wells to provide entire communities with clean, safe water.
We’re doing this because water is not just water; it impacts people’s lives in many different ways.
Water becomes a hygiene issue when drinking unclean water leads to illnesses such as dysentery, typhoid and diarrhoea – the cause of 1 in 5 deaths of children under five in Malawi. It becomes an education and gender issue when girls are too embarrassed to go to school during their periods because they don’t have appropriate toilets and hygiene facilities. And it becomes a nutrition issue when there isn’t enough water for crops and livestock – almost 80% of people in Malawi rely on farming to feed their families.
Just a few months ago, the remote village of Emoneni in Manyamula, only had one water source – a stagnant, natural well filled with a few centimetres of milky water. The water was unsafe to drink, but it was often the only choice that local people had.
Esther lives in Emoneni with her husband and children. She was thrilled when the village was identified as part of the Manyamula water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) project.
“Since I married into the village in 1972, the Village Headman has been trying to get help for water, but no one came. In the rainy season, the village can collect rainwater in buckets, but the rest of the year they use the water from the natural well, where the water is white and stagnant. As water is a problem in the area, it was decided that the water from the natural well would only be used for the households. The women had to walk further to the river (10km away) to collect water for their livestock, and there was never any for irrigating crops.”
In November 2017, Find Your Feet drilled a new well in the village, with an easy-to-maintain pump to bring fresh water up from the ground. Now the village has a clean source of water just a few metres away which is benefiting the 500 residents of Emoneni.
“Before we had diarrhoea and dysentery. From the new well the water seems safe, which will reduce diseases. Now we have the new well, we can use the old one for livestock and irrigation.”
“I am extremely happy as we have been provided with a deep well. On behalf of the entire community, we feel the same way. The problem of water has now been solved.”
In the nearby village of Mpangavisoti, the impact of clean water and sanitation is just as clear. Until recently the village had no toilets, and local people would use the nearby forest. As a result of inadequate education on the spread of disease, and a lack of hand washing facilities, people often found themselves unwell from preventable diseases, and were unable to tend to their crops and livestock.
In Mpangavisoti, we supported the community to repair a water pump which had fallen into disrepair. This pump now provides clean water for the whole village, immediately reducing cases of waterborne illnesses such as diarrhoea and dysentery.
We’re also working with local people to construct their own toilets which turn waste into compost. All the demonstration toilets also have hand-washing facilities outside to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria.
Despite these improvements, fresh water and toilets alone are not enough to ensure permanent, long-term change. Education on how disease is spread is also being rolled out across the community to emphasise the importance of good hygiene practices.
Ensuring the durability of the pumps is equally important to the self-sufficiency of these projects. Rhoda Nyirenda, a local mother, was selected by her community to be the chairperson of the Water Point Committee who are responsible for the repaired pump in Mpangavisoti.
Each household in the village pays 200 kwacha per month (about 20 pence) to contribute to the maintenance of the pump, meaning that everyone feels ownership over their water source.
“I’m very happy to have been chosen as the chairperson. Now I have more skills and knowledge and I am more respected in the community.”
Rhoda has also received training so that she can keep the pump in good condition, fix it when it breaks, and replace any missing parts as necessary using the maintenance fund.
Together with Find Your Feet, Health Poverty Action will continue to tackle all of the factors that impact on health and wellbeing, including sanitation, nutrition, education and water.