Water, sanitation and hygiene
Safe water for every child
Although 67 per cent of Malawi’s households have access to drinking water, distribution among districts, and between urban and rural areas, is uneven. Improved drinking water sources are more common in urban areas at 87 per cent compared to 63 per cent in rural areas. In rural areas, 37 per cent of households spend 30 minutes or more to fetch drinking water in comparison to 13 per cent in urban areas. Further analyses within districts also reveals the distribution of water services in some areas is poor and uneven. Only 77 per cent of water points nationwide are functional. The rest no longer work because of old age, catchment deterioration, neglect, lack of spare parts and inadequate community-based water management structures. Women and children shoulder the burden of poor access to water services as they often walk long distances to collect water for their families. Evidence shows that improving access to water significantly increases the time women spend time raising children and carrying out other household work, increasing their productivity and improving child wellbeing.
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. Although significant progress has been to decrease open defecation (OD), six per cent of the population still practice OD and only 26 per cent have access to basic sanitation services. Sanitation services are also unequally spread across the country. Seven per cent of households practicing OD are in rural areas compared to one per cent in urban areas. Changing behavior around the use of latrines has been challenging as has handwashing. Only 10 per cent of households in Malawi have handwashing facilities with soap (a proxy indicator for handwashing practice.)
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. Access to WASH is affected in most emergencies. The delivery of WASH supplies and continuity of WASH services are often the highest priority at the onset of an emergency and remain important through all stages of a humanitarian crisis.
UNICEF supports the Government of Malawi’s vision of providing safely managed drinking water services for all by 2030 (SDG 6.1.) UNICEF priority areas of work include increasing coverage of basic water supplies to provide services on a large scale, water quality and safety, strengthening operation and maintenance to improve functionality and sustainability, building community resilience, catchment management and water conservation, and improving the WASH monitoring system to enable quality implementation.
UNICEF is also supporting Malawi’s plans to eliminate OD and ensure adequate and equitable access to sanitation for all by 2030 in line with SDG 6.2. Another priority is to help communities achieve basic sanitation status as defined by the SDGs, promoting market-based sanitation and improving the practice of handwashing with soap. Specific strategies address demand, supply, and enabling environments to facilitate sustained behaviour change around sanitation and hygiene.
UNICEF is a WASH cluster co-lead with the Ministry of Health and continues to play a key role in supporting vulnerable populations to gain and maintain access to WASH services during emergencies and disasters. Emergency WASH services are provided through both direct response efforts and coordination efforts. UNICEF also supports the Government of Malawi and its partners to set up systems for preparedness to mitigate damage from future emergencies, and to improve district-level coordination in preparation for possible disasters. UNICEF encourages and promotes more active learning and dissemination of lessons learned from emergency responses in order to improve subsequent efforts.