How one village is putting an end to water woes

“We were drinking contaminated water,” says Caroline © UNICEF Malawi/2017/Joseph Scott

Joseph Scott, UNICEF Malawi

Kibwe village lies along the sprawling marshes that are a host to small irregular plots of rice fields in Karonga. During the rainy season the marshes are a hive of activity as local farmers work to capitalize on the seasonal rains, which flood the fields, to plant their staple rice.

Rice farming defines livelihoods in Kibwe. Most families look to the rice fields not only as source of food but also for income generation. It has helped farmers in the area in different ways. Some have managed to build better houses, others to send their children to school through rice cultivation. But in recent years, the situation has changed. The rainfall pattern has become unpredictable, leaving many facing hunger and disease.

“We don’t know whether the rain is a curse or blessing,” says Caroline Nyasulu, a farmer from the village. “Being a rice growing area, we need a lot of water to flood the marshes so that we can plant. But now when the floods come, they do not just end in the fields, they wreak havoc on the community, bringing along diseases such as cholera.”

Karonga is one of the districts in Malawi that has been experiencing perennial flash flooding in the last few years. Apart from causing heavy damage to infrastructure, the flash floods have also claimed lives and contributed to an increase in water borne diseases in the district.

“We had one of the worst flooding cases in 2011. Almost all the houses in this village were under water,” Caroline continues. “The floods caused many diseases such as cholera and cases of malaria also rose as the stagnant water became breeding ground for mosquitoes.”

Students at Kibwe drinking water from one of the taps supplied by the solar water system © UNICEF Malawi/2017/Joseph Scott

Solar power

The floods in Kibwe contaminated the only borehole they had. In 2013, UNICEF with funding from the European Union, supported the district to install a solar reticulated water system at Kibwe primary school. The solar driven borehole now serves the population around the school and also offers clean water to the students.

“Before the solar driven pump was installed, we had so many cases of diarrhoea from students after drinking water from a contaminated borehole,” says Lasmis Mtonga, head teacher at Kibwe primary school. “We also had similar cases in the surrounding villages where people were admitted to the health centre complaining of stomach problems after drinking water from the same borehole.”

Anjawo carries some water to the classroom for drinking during lessons by students © UNICEF Malawi/2017/Joseph Scott

The solar water system has also delighted students at Kibwe primary school. Anjawo Sowolo (12) a standard four pupil at the school says she used to have diarrhoea after drinking water from the contaminated borehole, which made her miss classes.

“The borehole was our only source of water so we had no choice but to drink the water,” says Anjawo. “. It tasted salty and made me sick every time I drank it. The water from the [solar] tank is so clean and also tastes good.”

Apart from supplying water to communities, the solar reticulated system has also come to the rescue of the health centre in the area. The facility was struggling with water problems in the maternity ward and a pipeline was installed to provide water to expectant mothers.

Sustaining the water system

Currently, about 1,160 students from Kibwe primary school use the water facility for different purposes. The water also extends, through taps, to different locations in the community where about 600 households use it. Each community member pays 500 kwacha (US $0.69) per month to the Water Users Committee for their water. This money is used to buy spare parts for the borehole and to maintain the system.

“At first, there were problems to do with contributions. People did not understand why they were supposed to pay. We invited chiefs who then explained to them the need for contributions, so that we can maintain the system without problems,” says Mtonga who is also a member of the Water Users Committee.

Considering that some families struggle to pay the monthly fee, the committee also accepts payment in the form of rice. Once the rice is collected, it is sold at the local market and the money is deposited in the committee’s bank account.

“We buy our own chlorine for water purification and occasionally some spare parts for the taps,” adds Mtonga.

Tauzie inspecting a water tank that supplies water to the health centre © UNICEF Malawi/2017/Joseph Scott

UNICEF supported the training of the Water Users Committee. The idea was to have community managed water points in order to instill a sense of ownership and promote sustainability. According to UNICEF’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Specialist, Blessius Tauzie, the trainings have paid off as all facilities are now being run by the communities themselves, with clear roles and responsibilities.

“We want the water users to manage the systems themselves,” says Tauzie. “So far, the response from the communities where we have such systems has been good. Many are now in a position to buy simple accessories such as taps on their own and to pay for minor maintenances of the system.”

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