By Alfred Sajiwa, UNICEF Malawi Intern.
Rural and semi-urban areas tend to be disadvantaged when compared to their urban counterparts. Poor sanitation, poor hygiene, school dropout rates, and poverty in general, are greater. A 2003 study, Urban-Rural Inequality in Living Standards in Africa, found that living standards in rural communities lag behind urban communities. The study found many more boys go to school than girls. Unfortunately, young girls are married off or remain at home to perform on household chores.
In Malawi, the majority of the population live rural and semi-urban areas. Poor hygiene and sanitation in these areas means the risk of contracting diseases such as cholera are greater. Cholera is a leading cause of deaths in these communities.
However, efforts are underway to map areas in Malawi which have experienced cholera outbreaks. Last January UNICEF led a team including officials from the Community Development Center (CDC) and students from Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR), mapping areas in Malawi using drones and other technology. The efforts found that areas where outbreaks were common typically had inadequate numbers of toilets and waste facilities. Places where people defecated didn’t have hand washing facilities. Access to clean water was also poor. Most of the drinking water came from unprotected wells.
Conditions in market places was even worse. High levels of open defecation were detected. Open defecation was found to be common in Mchesi and Biwi markets, in particular. Unfortunately, the behaviour of people frequenting the markets has driving the cholera outbreaks. People have even refused Lilongwe City Assembly orders to use manure processing areas. A similar situation is observed at Kauma market, where there are no designated dumping sites and pools of sewage lay on the ground. As a result, cholera outbreaks have occurred.
UNICEF believes changing community perceptions and attitudes is key to reducing the outbreaks of the disease. Through community involvement, mobilisation and participation with relevant stakeholders, UNICEF hopes to improve the situation by involving people living in communities who have insights and knowledge on how best solve problems.