At 5:00 o'clock in the morning, it's time for Maria Moses to start her day with the daily task of collecting water for her and her family of seven, often accompanied by one of her children. Her routine takes an hour as she collects and carries 3 buckets of water each containing 25 litres of Water from the local shared open well and back again to her home. Every time she draws water she tells me she is afraid that the water will make her sick, it often gives her and her family diarrhoea. She demonstrates how she uses the water to clean her plates, cook and drink. She then heads out to the field at 6:00 o'clock to start preparing and weeding her maize garden. At 10 o'clock she returns from her garden to cook lunch, where she repeats her morning ritual of cleaning the plates, cooking maize and serves drinking water again for her husband and children. At 13:00 o'clock she returns for the second time to collect water, this time she makes the trip 5 times instead of 3 as she needs water for her family to bathe in. Maria lives only a couple of hundred of meters from the spring and yet collecting water is such a time consuming task.
We know you have heard this story countless time before of the trials and tribulations of the African women spending hours on end, in the scorching heat, collecting water day in day out. Why is Maria's story so different? What makes this story so remarkable is what people don't tell you.
This water well looks pleasant enough to an outsider. In near 40 degree heat, a group of women are gathered around a clear spring, washing the stones of the well under the shade of banana and mango trees. This unusual practise of washing stones has to be done as this pool, is also shared with many animals; goats, pigs, chickens and Hyena. It looks like paradise, but the cool clear water is far from ideal to drink.
The community live in fear of the hyena who lurk around the pool at night. They speak rapidly in Chichewa and a boy runs away and just 10 minutes later returns with a man walking at his side. As we get talking the man introduces himself as Dawaya Chewete and the women point at him and say "this is the one who was attacked by the hyena." He tells the story of how he lives alone and so was collecting his own water from the well at dusk when 2 hyenas came towards him. He cried for help when one of the hyenas pounced on him and bit into the back of his head. Luckily with the noise, the community came to see what was going on and the commotion scared the hyenas away.
They are a very real and constant fear for the community they tell me of another case where a woman lost her child to the Hyena.
The community was asked if they ever boil their water to make sure it's clean, they talked among themselves and laughed and eventually one lady said “no we don't boil our water, firewood in this area is very scarce and there is no time to travel the ever increasing distances to collect enough to boil water and cook”. In Ntenthe village some 200-300 people use this open well, despite a clean, safe borehole being less than 2km away. The Madzi Alipo team fixed the nearby borehole last year with funding from The One Foundation.
Before the borehole was repaired, the women told me the situation was much worse. They said, “everyone used to come here and people could even fight over the water.” They reported about 600 people would come to use it and would queue for hours to collect water, as a result people used to use less water, and would start coming after dark when the hyenas and dangerous people were about.
Maria and Dawaya are thankful for the Madzi Alipo borehole repair, they have more time in their days without water queues at their well or having to venture out at night. Yet the community are still drinking water which increases their risk of illness and Malaria.
Stories like these are common in Malawi, there are many places where clean, safe water is still a dream. The Madzi Alipo App, powered by ONE, offers a real time capability to map and log boreholes and open water sources across Malawi.
As we work with NGO’s and organisations, both local and international, through areas of Malawi mapping water points, both safe and open water, we will start to see these gaps. People who are in need will be able to be clearly seen on the Madzi Alipo Map, in real time. The national vision of Malawi achieving water security for all, has the possibility to become a reality through a lot of hard work and collaboration.