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In Malawi, asking “What does water mean to you?”

By Zulaikha Sesay

Three villages in Malawi share their stories of how new water points, constructed with support from UNICEF and the European Union, have helped bring health and happiness to their communities. 

LILONGWE, Malawi, 1 May 2015 – Kwanje village, in the heart of Malawi’s Mchinji district, has a population of 390 people, most of them children. The main attraction in the village is the new water point, constructed last November. It is where women converge to share stories, and where children sneak in moments of play between helping each other lift full buckets of water on their heads.

© UNICEF Malawi/2015/Chikondi
With a new water point in their village, Sheleshita John, Maureen Kwenda and Sikola Jimmy now have water closer to home and can spend more time playing.

Three young girls – Sheleshita John, Maureen Kwenda and Sikola Jimmy – all age 7, are among those who meet at the water point. For them, it’s a relief that they no longer have to walk 5 kilometres every day to fetch water.

Although they still have to help their families with this chore, it has become a much lighter one, leaving them with more time to study after school, and more time to play with their friends.

When asked what water means them they simply smile. “Water is happiness”, says Sikola.

Improving access

In partnership with the European Union, UNICEF has been supporting the Government of Malawi over the last 18 months to provide 500 new and rehabilitated water points, reaching 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 gained access to improved water supply.

In many countries in Africa, water transcends socio-economic status. Access to water – or, more importantly, lack of access – affects many communities, both urban and rural. And 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 (MDG) on improved water supply. According to the 2013–14 Malawi MDG Endline Survey, 86 per cent of the population use improved sources of drinking water. However, despite strong overall progress, 748 million people still did not have access to improved drinking water in 2012.

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

For children, lack of safe water can be tragic, due to the risk of deaths from diarrhoeal diseases.

Community commitment

An hour away from Kwanje village, Chinkota village has also received a new water point through the EU-UNICEF partnership. Chinkota village has a six-person village water committee responsible for looking after this new community resource, because while a new water point is something to celebrate, it also requires maintenance and care.

Three of the women members of the committee – Mellifa Kalipinde, Catherine Chimseu and Bernadetta Chijela – are responsible for collecting bricks to build a small fence around the water point, to make it more secure and to keep animals away. All 88 households in the village have also agreed to contribute to a small monthly collection, in case of a mechanical problem with the pump.

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.”

“Where does water come from?”

Further along in southern Malawi’s Thyolo district, amidst the breathtaking beauty of the tea fields, is Mikalati school, with 478 students (258 boys and 220 girls) and 9 teachers. Last December, the school got a 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 often happens when a school gets access to safe water, it marks the beginning of further improvements. Parents in Mikalati are already pulling together resources to assist the school with the building of toilet blocks for students and teachers.

© UNICEF Malawi/2015/Chikondi
For learners at Mikalati school, water is the future.

The school also has a lush maize field. A local NGO 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 head teacher Clara Mwahara to a room full of eager learners.

“Water is the future” says one.

“Without water, we cannot grow food and we will get hungry,” says another.

“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 appear all over, and all of a sudden a voice: “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, heavy rains and the resulting floods in January, which displaced some 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.

While the European Union 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 get access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene.



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