Clean water improves health and nutrition for people in Malawi

The same challenge has plagued Flossie Kapu throughout her entire 61 years: getting access to water. This grandmother living in Sato, Malawi, has spent her life walking to get the precious liquid. She is not alone.

By Charles Kabena
Published March 10, 2014 at 11:15am PDT

The same challenge has plagued Flossie Kapu throughout her entire 61 years: getting access to water.

Competition for water leads to violence

This grandmother living in Sato, Malawi, has spent her life walking to get the precious liquid. She is not alone. UNICEF and the World Health Organization say that 75 percent of sub-Saharan households must collect water from a distant source.

Flossie often spent a whole day getting one bucket of water from the closest well to her home, which was a third of a mile away. But because the water source served three villages and was thus always overcrowded, “One pail is all I always managed to get in a day due to congestion,” Flossie says.

The congestion also fueled stiff competition for the water, often causing violence as people desperately tried to get water for their families.

“You could not send children to that borehole,” says Sato resident Lydia Samata. “No child could get that rare opportunity to get water. When we say that we could fight, I mean it. We wrestled to get water, and it was not easy. We could go there at 5 in the morning and return at 2 in the afternoon.”

Contaminated water can prove fatal for children

With not enough water to meet every family’s needs, many, including Flossie, were forced to use other water sources.

“We used the [well] water strictly for drinking, though it was even insufficient, and we had to rely on water from the river for cooking and everything [else].”

The river water was contaminated, making many people sick. Waterborne diseases caused suffering for Flossie’s children, who had repeated episodes of diarrhea. Her children are part of a larger global crisis: Every year, 1.7 billion diarrhea cases cause more than half a million deaths among children younger than 5.

With new well, ‘life will never be the same for us women’

But last year, as part of its water, sanitation, and hygiene project, World Vision drilled a well 109 yards from Flossie’s house. Now, women from Sato village are rejoicing because clean water is close and, more importantly, ensured.

“World Vision helped us, and life will never be the same for us women of this village,” Flossie says, lifting her hands to the sky in praise.

With a well now serving the village, even children are able to draw water without needing to walk far, risk injury, or get caught in the fights that hampered efforts at the previous well.

Lomia Cassim, a 24-year-old community health surveillance assistant, celebrates the change that is now evident. Since the new well was drilled, she says that Sato village has recorded fewer cases of diarrhea. She attributes this to the presence of clean water and the sanitation standards that World Vision’s program requires from communities as a prerequisite for getting boreholes.

Women from the village also are thankful that they can bathe more frequently, which contributes to healthier breastfeeding for babies.

The convenient water source has created new opportunities for people in Sato, too. Now residents can install small-scale irrigation to produce vegetables like kale, pumpkin, and tomatoes. They also plan to plant banana trees at the well to make use of the water that otherwise goes into drainage.

“I have a small place in the community shed, which our men in the village did for us, and I have vegetables,” Flossie says with pride. “None among us could produce vegetables on their own before. We all depended on buying, which was very costly for vegetables that we can produce on our own.”

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Highlights

  • 75 percent of sub-Saharan households must collect water from a distant source that often is contaminated and causes illness.
  • Flossie, a grandmother in Malawi, has spent her life doing just that. The well she used was often the site of violence because of excessive demand for its water.
  • But life became much easier when World Vision installed a new well just over 100 yards from her house, part of the organization’s efforts to promote clean water, sanitation, and hygiene in communities in need.

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