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Malawi, 20 March 2015: What does water mean to you? Communities in share their water stories

UNICEF Malawi/2015
© UNICEF Malawi/2015
Sheleshita John, Maureen Kwenda and Sikola Jimmy now have water closer to home and can spend more time playing.

By Zulaikha Sesay

March 2015 – In many countries in Africa, water transcends socioeconomic status and access to water, or more importantly lack thereof, affects many communities – both urban and rural. Nevertheless, it is often the most vulnerable and hard to reach communities that are left behind. Compared to many other countries, Malawi has performed well in achieving the Millennium Development Goal on improved water supply. Indeed, 84 per cent of the population use improved sources of drinking water. However, 2.4 million people still do not have access to safe drinking water. For children, lack of safe water can be tragic, due to the risk of deaths from diarrhoeal diseases.

In line with UNICEF’s equity agenda that seeks to reach each and every child with water, sanitation and hygiene services, UNICEF in partnership with European Union has been supporting the Government of Malawi over the last 18 months to provide 500 new and rehabilitated water points to reach an additional 125,000 people with safe water by 2016. In 2014 alone, as a result of this partnership almost 50,000 people in remote communities had access to improved water supply.

To celebrate World Water Day 2015, 3 communities in Malawi share their water stories and how the UNICEF-EU partnership has improved their lives.

Kwanje Village is located in the heart of Mchinji district in central Malawi. The village boasts 390 inhabitants, most of whom are children. The main of attraction in the village is the brand new water point which was constructed last November. Like most rural communities, the new water point has become the heart of village life, a place where women converge to share stories, while children sneak in moments of play in-between helping each other to put buckets of water on their heads. Three young girls- Sheleshita John, Maureen Kwenda and Sikola Jimmy, all aged 7, are amongst those in the village that meet at the water point. It’s a great relief that they are that they no longer have to walk for 5 kilometres every day to access water. Although they still have to help their parents with this task, it has become much lighter, leaving them with more time to study after school, and more importantly to play with their friends. The new water point in their village is a symbol of hope for a less burdensome childhood. When asked what water means them they simply smile. “Water is happiness”, says Sikola.

An hour away from Kwanje village, is Chinkota village, another community that has received a new water point through the EU-UNICEF partnership. The construction of a new water point is often a reason to celebrate, however, providing maintenance and care for water points requires strong community action and participation. Chinkota village boasts of a six-person strong village water committee which is responsible for looking after this new resource on behalf of the community. Three of the women who are members of the water point committee- Mellifa Kalipinde, Catherine Chimseu and Bernadetta Chijela are responsible for collecting bricks. The villagers have gathered these bricks to build a small fence around the water point, in order to make it more secure and to keep animals away. All 88 households in the village have also agreed to contribute a small monthly stipend which is saved for rainy days, in case there is a mechanical problem with the pump, which can sometimes occur. It is well known that community led initiatives are those most likely to succeed and this is certainly true of Chinkota village. Catherine, who is Vice-Chair of the committee explains “Life is easier and we no longer have to walk long distances. Water is comfort and I feel a sense of responsibility to ensure that we maintain this wonderful gift”. 

UNICEF Malawi/2015
© UNICEF Malawi/2015
Kalipinde, Catherine Chimseu and Bernadetta Chijela are responsible for looking after the water point in their village.

Further along in southern Malawi- Thyolo district, amidst the breath-taking beauty of the tea fields is Mikalati school which has 478 learners (258 boys and 220 girls), and 9 teachers. Last December the school got a significant boost in the form of a brand new water point courtesy of the EU and UNICEF. So now there is safe water for the children to drink and for washing their hands.

As so often happens when a school gets access to safe water, it usually marks the beginning of further improvements. Parents are already pulling together resources to assist the school with the building of decent toilet blocks for students and teachers. The school now has a lush maize field and a local NGO in the area buys the maize from the school, turns it into maize meal and fortifies it with nutrients and vitamins for morning time porridge.

“What is water?” asks Clara Mwahara, the head teacher to a room full of eager learners. “Water is the future” says one. “Without water, we cannot grow food and we will get hungry”. “Where does water come from?” asks Ms Mwahara again. “From boreholes” says one learner; “from taps” adds another. The head teacher points at the clear blue sky: Shining eyes and broad smiles all over all of a sudden: “Rain, we play in the rain”.

Every year, Malawi joins the world in celebrating World Water Day and the achievements towards ensuring that more people enjoy this precious resource. This year, however, the heavy rains and the resulting floods in January which affected 230,000 people are etched in the memories of many. It serves as a reminder that water can also cause the destruction of homes and livelihoods, the displacement of families and the disruption of education. A stark reminder perhaps of the increasing threat of climate change and the negative impact on the most vulnerable, especially children.

While the EU and UNICEF work hand in hand to ensure more children in Malawi have access to safe drinking water, they are also partners in the ongoing emergency to ensure that children affected by the floods also get access to their right to clean water, sanitation and hygiene services they need.

 

 

 
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