CHIKWAWA, Malawi 30th June, 2022 (AEJ) - Chisomo Malivasi aged 13, dreams of becoming a nurse, she laments fetching water for both domestic and household chores are challenging tasks for her daily. Traditionally and culturally, it is the woman role to fetch water for the family, that entails walking about two to three kilometers to the nearest source.
“I wake up around 4:30am daily, but we spend more time at the borehole because water pressure is low. This has a bearing on my punctuality at school, oftentimes I report for classes late.
“When you return, you are asked to go for another trip, and this is what frustrates my education efforts. I do not have any option but follow what my mother asks me to do. If water sources were closer to where I stay, it couldn’t have been a problem at all,” says Chisomo who complains this trade barbs with her time for studies.
Malawi’s southern region district of Chikwawa where Chisomo hails from has an estimated population of over 350,000 people. It is one of the districts more vulnerable and prone to dry spells, floods and other natural calamities. The district is traditionally hot and temperatures are getting even much higher.
The streams and rivers which used to flow annually have turned seasonal – flowing for a limited period.
So far over six rivers in the district, which used to be perennial, have since dried up and turned into banks of sand as a result of siltation from uplands. In most locations the vegetative cover has been cleared and when it rains the area experiences a lot of run off. The water table continues to drop with boreholes losing capacity to provide supply to communities. More than 20 boreholes have dried up, leaving over 5,000 people who depend on them with no better option but to walk long distances to fetch water oftentimes from unprotected sources.
Esnart Makina, 46, from Jofina village, Traditional Authority Katunga in the district, says climate change has drastically affected communities’ livelihoods as most people struggle to access clean water.
“Women and girls have largely been affected by water scarcity. Previously the rivers would run all year round but now when the rains stop, the rivers dry up. They have to walk long distances to search for the resource,” explains Makina.
Zikomo Banda, a teacher at Matchombe Primary School equally admits that after carrying out household chores, children mostly girls get to school exhausted. This has a bearing on the levels of concentration in classes. Banda observes that without basic necessities like clean water, food, and healthcare, it’s hard for the girl child to accomplish their dreams like that of Chisomo to be a nurse.
“It’s unfortunate that parents still force their children to perform tiresome chores before they go to school. This is a disadvantage to most girls. “One’s life, dreams, and future are tied to what you have or don’t have today,” he observes.
The water scarcity problem coincides the attainment of the UN Sustainable Development Goal for water and sanitation [Goal 6), which calls for universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water by 2030. The first step is providing everyone with a basic service within a 30-minute round trip, and the long-term goal is to ensure everyone has safe water available at home.
According to UNICEF Malawi, in rural areas, 37 percent of households spend 30 minutes or more to fetch drinking water in comparison to 13 per cent in urban areas.
UNICEF Malawi also observes that some water points nationwide are no longer working because of catchment deterioration, neglect, lack of spare parts and inadequate community-based water management structures. “Malawi has seen an increase of droughts and floods in recent years. The high incidence of floods in the Lower Shire has displaced local populations.
The interruption or degradation of WASH services in affected communities during times of crisis affects health, nutritional status and the safety and dignity of children and women,” says UNICEF Malawi in a statement. According to the UN agency, poor sanitation and hygiene are major contributors to the burden of disease and child survival, costing Malawi US$57 million each year, or 1.1 per cent of national GDP, due to health costs and productivity losses.
UNICEF therefore supports Malawi government’s vision of providing safely managed drinking water services for all by 2030.
The Modern Cooking for Healthy Forests in Malawi (MCHF), a project co-funded by USAID and UKaid, concurs that the absence of forest cover has also caused most rivers to dry up quickly, making access to water extremely difficult for rural communities especially women.
MCHF Chief of Party to Malawi, Ramzy Kanaan says low base flows or no stream flows during the dry season means that water is in short supply for domestic water use and irrigation resulting in severe competition between domestic water users and those involved in irrigation.
“Given less water infiltrating the ground over time due to deforestation, rivers will dry up in the dry season and water tables will continue to decline necessitating even deeper wells and boreholes,” says Kanaan.
According to Frackson Nankwawa, a trained borehole technician who services dysfunctional boreholes in the area, problem of boreholes not being able to pump out water has reached alarming because he knows at least four water points which are not functional due to low water table related issues. Nankwawa equally believes this is due to climate change and large-scale environment degradation in the area.
“The water table has dropped significantly and the situation is aggravated during the dry season as the borehole pumping rods don’t reach the water table. This means that these water points will only resume functioning again when it will start to rain sometime in December,” says Nankwama. Acting Water Officer for Chikwawa, Rester Msunza says planting and regenerating trees along water courses is critical in protecting rivers and other water points.
“We are trying to empower local communities to become the solution and work in partnership with them and government departments. Together we have introduced by-laws and educated the local communities on benefits of forests and water conservation,” says Msunza.
Paramount Chief Lundu Nankawa advises the communities to plant trees around water points and hills to deal with the problem in the long run. Lundu says the impact of climate change is now affecting everyone to the extent that it is a challenge requiring joint effort to contain, in order to make the world a better place again.
“We know tree planting and forest protection are key to water conservation and keeping Malawian’s safe from flooding.
“At every opportunity, I share messages and raise awareness of the importance of tree planting and maintenance,” says Lundu. This is corroborated by Kanaan who calls for promotion of sustainable forest management and energy options to maintain cover and to reduce land-based emissions the country.
Kanaan feels the country’s forests are threatened due to reliance on biomass for energy and timber for construction; agriculture and settlement expansion; and harmful bushfires.
More than 96% of Malawian households rely on firewood and charcoal as their primary cooking fuels, which is the most significant driver of deforestation and forest degradation. “The country’s high population density and growth is aggravating the situation. In order to maintain forest cover and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Malawi needs innovative solutions that prioritize citizens’ modern cooking energy needs, and properly manage and regulate forest resources,” says Kanaan.
He further calls for improved local delivery of forestry services, and promoting forest-friendly enterprises, including sustainable charcoal and other biomass energies, strengthening regulation and enforcement to support sustainable wood fuel production and use.
“An increased provision of safe, treated water, more efficient use of produced water, and additional water conservation and environmental protection efforts are needed to ensure the viability of the water supply for future generations,” he sums it up.