By Rex Chikoko, The Nation
According to a review of various studies conducted in Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu cities as well as some districts in the Southern Region—plus interviews with experts in water, sanitation and urban development—the majority of Malawians drink water with high levels of faeces and other coliforms everyday nationwide.
In some study findings, the faecal contamination is at least a thousand times more than the levels that the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends as safe for human consumption and falls well below the modest standards that Malawi’s own Ministry of Irrigation and Water Development sets.
For the roughly 25 percent of the 17 million Malawians who have varying levels of access to piped water, contamination is through broken water board pipes along aged water systems that let in coliforms, which is waste mostly carrying disease-causing bacteria.
The toxic effluent comes from dilapidated sewer infrastructure as was the case in Area 18; pit latrines and open defecation, among others and finds its way into piped water.
But the problem is worst in informal settlements such as Bangwe in Blantyre; Kauma in Lilongwe and Chibavi in Mzuzu—which are much poorer than the middle density Area 18 where sanitation and hygiene conditions are much better, residents there can afford piped water and its source as well as treatment are far more superior; although rural areas are exposed as well.
Moreover, of the 25 percent, only around three percentage points of the country’s population has piped water in their homes while the rest either share with others within a plot, get from kiosks and/or supplement with water from unsafe sources largely because most people are too poor to buy from kiosks every day.
For the remainder (around 75 percent)—who access water from shallow wells, boreholes, rivers, lakes, dams and springs, among other unsavory sources—the faecal contamination and other effluent is direct, according to experts.
More worrying, one study finds, is that in some of the water contamination-hit peri-urban areas, only 40 percent of respondents said they treat their water before drinking it.