Drought that hit the country’s Southern Region in the 2015/16 growing season brought an endless nightmare for Chrissy Tolani of Mthepheya Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Malemia in Nsanje District.
The disaster ravaged water supply systems, burdening Tolani and other women with tiring trips to fetch water in the hilly terrain of Chididi.
The 45-year-old mother of five says she used to spend almost the whole day in search of water from swamps.
“It was a struggle to get the murky and dirty water,” she recalls. “I used to leave home around 5 am only to fill my buckets around 3pm.
“I used to spend over 10 hours collecting water. This limited my time to manage other things.”
United Nations (UN) data shows that an ever-growing Malawian woman typically spends 54 minutes to collect water.
This is against the first step to ensure everyone accesses water within a 30-minute round trip, according to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Six on ensuring universal access to safe and affordable drinking water by 2030.
Being the only sources of water, the residents of Mthepheya Village used to flock to the swamps to collect the water before animals invaded the place.
Tolani says the situation worsened their vulnerability to waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea and cholera.
She recounts: “We had no choice, but to use the water that put us at risk of dying from water-borne diseases. Typhoid, diarrhoea and cholera were the order of the day.”
This affected the rural community’s livelihoods and brought poverty as many households spent their incomes travelling to hospitals.
As the nearby swamps dried up, trips to get water became lengthy and multiple for women and children.
With gender norms that confine woman to the kitchen, children’s rights and development, especially of girls were hindered.
One of the girls, Chisomo Khuche says she was afraid to participate in public life during menses.
“I could not dare to go to school during menses because of lack of safe water. I felt ashamed, unclean and in pain with the poor menstrual health hygiene,” says the Form Three student at Chididi Community Day Secondary School (CDSS).
Poor access to sanitary requirements during the natural biological process tramples women’s and girls’ rights to health, education and work, among others, according to United Nations Population Fund.
Leaving husbands while fast asleep and returning home after nine to 10 hours also fuelled gender-based violence by men suspecting their wives of promiscuity.
Jennifer Peter, 64, says the water problems used to break up marriages.
“There was no explanation that husbands could buy. We could be beaten up for coming home late and failure to do household chores on time,” says the woman from Chapajika Village, T/A Chimombo in the district.
Not anymore. Chididi area and Chapajika Village now have safe tap and borehole water, thanks to the Ministry of Water and Sanitation through Malawi Resilience and Disaster Risk Management Project.
Through ihe initiative, high-yielding boreholes have been drilled using solar-powered systems at the foot of Matekesa Hill in Chididi that have brought clean water close to homes.
There are 48 home taps and four communal water points serving over 3 000 households, including at Chididi CDSS. There is now a borehole right in Chapajika Village.
Bankrolled by the World Bank, the project strives to build resilience of the communities in these hard-to-reach areas affected by the drought.
Tolani, who now has tap water at her house, says life has improved for the better.
She says: “I have safe water that allows me to have enough time to look after my seven-member family. My children are healthy and I now do small-scale business.”
Tolani says the project has made women’s dream of having water right in the village come true.
Chisomo, 15, says girls are now enjoying their rights to health and education.
“Water has brought peace of mind as I have my dignity and safety in managing menses. We no longer walk long distances, allowing us to spend more time in school,” she says with a smile.
Peter states that with clean water in the village, harmony in marriages is flourishing.
“We do chores in time because safe water is near. This gives us enough time with our husbands to enjoy conjugal rights, among others,” she says.
Group village head Mthepheya says the project has liberated his people to actively participate in communal development activities.
He says: “The improved hygiene and sanitation has promoted our health, enabling people to have more time on initiatives to beat poverty. Our children will live to their full potential.”
Chididi Water Users Association chairperson Symon Katelele-Ching’oma says they are now providing potable water to people throughout the year.
“We had water supply infrastructure rehabilitated. We sustainably give people water,” he says.
Katelele-Ching’oma says they have employed measures to jealously protect the water supply systems so that they serve them for a long time.
Nsanje District Council water officer John Chilapula commended the project for alleviating water challenges in the district.
“The Chididi Water Scheme has ramped up our efforts to improve access to safe water among citizens so that we address hygiene-related challenges,” he says.
Ministry of Water and Sanitation, principal water engineer, John Chingawale says the ministry is pleased to provide safe water to people in hard-to-reach areas.
“We are delighted to have built resilience to drought for people to have safe water. The initiative has promoted good health and well-being as the water enhanced hygiene and sanitation in the targeted areas,” he says.