93% households drink pathogen, chemical contaminated water

By Charles Mkula

The high demand for water in Malawi, stimulated by population growth and increased economic activities such as farming, industrialization and urbanization, challenges government to increase basic water service provision.

Two studies conducted in the country indicate that many households in the country use contaminated water for hygienic practices and consumption, a development which increases everyday health risks.

On Thursday, the National Statistical Office (NSO) disclosed that 93 percent of households in Malawi drink contaminated water.

According to the Malawi Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) conducted by the statiscal office between December 2019- August 2020, sixty percent of the water is contaminated at their various sources including taps in homes or on plots, public taps, water kiosks, boreholes, wells or springs.

Experts say poor sanitation practices surrounding transportation and storage of the water contribute to high incidences of waterborne illnesses, including cholera. They say lack of sanitation not only impacts health but also household income and child attainment of education. 

The MICS shows that high water contamination is more experienced in the rural areas than in urban settings where 97 percent of households use improved water sources compared to 86 percent in the rural

“The drinking water is contaminated with human or animal faeces containing pathogens, or with chemical and physical contaminants,” the MICS observes pointing out the importance of improved water quality in preventing diseases and attaining the SDGs

Ministr of Health Khumbize Chiponda says the revelation is a wake-up call for government to take the right actions.

A 2020 Drinking Water Quality Audit conducted by the Water Service Association of Malawi (WASAMA), the Department of Water Resources and the Ministry of Forestry and Natural Resources also reveal inconsistences in the compliance of the country’s five Water Boards and four Water Users Associations to piped drinking water standards as required by the Malawi Bureau of Standards (MBS).

The audit, which targeted sources of raw water, treatment plants and consumer points where water quality was monitored to determine levels of faecal and bacteria contamination, pH, chlorine and turbidity, recommends water utilities to invest in water quality monitoring programmes.

Its findings show that on average, most of the sampled points registered values that fell outside the acceptable ranges and that the water supplied from the affected water points was not safe for human consumption

It further indicates that the water quality laboratories in some treatment plants lack basic water quality testing equipment for pH, turbidity and electrical conductivity.

WASH sector players agree that to address the situation, holistic technical and financial planning must take into account water demand, multiple water uses, quality assurance, available resources and consumer behaviours.

They also feel that the national budget on water is more biased towards urban development and have since suggested the need to make deliberate resource allocations to rural water development. 

Meanwhile, WASH players under the WESNET are lobbying government to create a standalone ministry that will specifically focus on water development.

MICS surveys measure key indicators that allow countries to generate data for use in policies, programmes, and national development plans, and to monitor progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other internationally agreed upon commitments.

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