So today was my first full day in Malawi, which started rather early with a very loud call to prayer across the city at 5am – still, he had a good voice!
Our first visit was to the WaterAid offices to meet the team. The complexity of the situation in Malawi is immense, from corruption in the country through to the need for strong collaboration between partners, local communities and the government, which is something the team here have to navigate on a daily basis. Over the past three years the WaterAid team of just 25 people have impacted the lives of over 700,000 residents in the country (around five percent of the population) bringing them safe water, access to sanitation or better hygiene, all in a sustainable way, at an average cost of under £10 per person: a staggering achievement.
To say the regulations for planning are virtually non-existent in Malawi may be an overstatement. It seems communities just build homes (as planning permission can take five years) in areas that then start to become established, but there is no thought about access to water. So the rest of the day was spent with the Lilongwe water board, to see how they supplied Lilongwe with water, as well as how their collaboration with WaterAid has helped bring water kiosks to many of these ‘unplanned’ communities.
Interestingly, at the Kamuzu Dam (Lilongwe’s water source), the link between local communities and the company was very strong – so much so that people were washing clothes on the shores of the reservoir, with the abstraction point for the village not too far away! It might sound strange – but this is the way the water board stay engaged with the community – and that’s crucial.
Probably the most revealing part of the day was the journey out to Kamuzu Dam where we started to see the real Malawi, away from the city. The telling image for me was small children picking through litter and sharp metal at the side of the road – such a completely different world to ours.
A fascinating day, which shows just how complex the situation is. These are issues without any easy answers, but the commitment of the WaterAid team here are really making a difference, especially by influencing and working with so many different people and organisations.
Tomorrow we’re visiting Kasungu and some rural areas, to see a primary school and a health care centre…