The Water of Life
Proper sanitation changes lives
Kauma Village is an informal settlement of over 33,000 people who live on the outskirts of Lillongwe, Malawi’s capital. Over 75 percent of Malawi’s urban population live in informal settlements like Kauma.
Since the 1960’s, people have been moving to Kauma from rural areas in order to find work. They seek out mostly unskilled labor. Incomes are among the lowest in Malawi, as low as $50 (US) per month. HIV and AIDS have ravaged the community. There are about 7,000 orphans in Kauma alone, placing enormous pressure on families to absorb them and care for them in this community.
Because of its location, Kauma falls outside the normal services the Malawian government provides in Lilongwe and so many people living there lack basic water and sanitation facilities. Diseases, when they occur, spread rapidly.
Malawi is one the world's least urbanised nations, but this is rapidly changing. It is now one of the the fastest urbanising countries in the world, with an urbanisation rate of 6.3%.
Habitat for Humanity Malawi (HFHM) recognized the need to support and help people in the burgeoning slum areas of urban Malawi. In 2012 it implemented a three-pronged pilot project to improve toilet facilities, waste management, and availability of clean water.
Better toilets reduce accidents and illness
Diana Lungu, a resident of Kauma says, “The toilet (we had) wasn’t built properly and it leaked when it rained. Children would fall into the pit and there would be a terrible accident.”
The local leader, Chief Kauma, embraced HFHM’s intervention. A beneficiary himself, he has worked closely with HFHM to expand the program. To date, 130 families now have Ecosan (ecological sanitation) composting toilets—a waterless sanitation system that does not contaminate underground water. In addition, 20 local artisans were trained in Ecosan latrine construction, and 40 community members were trained by HFHM to run hygiene workshops for 1,250 families.
A good example are the Lungu, Ngozo and Maston families. The 17 people in the three families share one Ecosan toilet.
“The new toilet has really helped. We don’t have accidents anymore,” says Diana Lungu. “We used to get sick a lot. Now we don’t. We haven’t had a case of cholera in a long time. And we make sure that the toilet is always clean to avoid the diseases we used to get with the old toilet.”
The families have also erected a hand-washing system outside the toilet following HFHM’s hygiene training session.
Managing waste to improve crop yields
Another benefit of the new Ecosan toilets is their ability to create manure.
Many inhabitants of Kauma were once subsistence farmers. When they moved to the city, they lost access to the vital source of food and income they left behind in their villages. However, there is land in rural areas that can be used to grow food.
The Ecosan toilets recycle the contents of latrines which can then be applied as fertiliser for agricultural use. Chemical-free, it uses a biological process to break down faecal matter. After decomposing for six to nine months, the inexpensive manure can fertilize fields and avoid the need for expensive chemcals.
Diana Lungu uses the manure to grow tomatoes and pink impatiens in her garden in Kauma and also uses it at her farm in her village. With rising food prices, growing one’s own food is crucial.
Improving access to clean water
The residents of Kauma also lack safe and affordable drinking water. The Malawian government concentrates on supplying water, rather than access to clean water, thus leaving people vulnerable to disease. HFHM responded by establishing five water kiosks, conveniently located throughout Kauma, providing 6,250 residents with clean drinking water.
Maliseni Nabanda is very happy. “We used to take water from the borehole” she said as she wends her way through the market in Kauma towards the water kiosk, carrying a big green bucket that she pays 15 kwacha (about 3 US cents) to fill. “There were lots of people fighting over the same borehole. People were fighting to get water that wasn’t even clean. But now we have the water kiosk and the situation is better.”
The small fee Maliseni and others pay for the water contributes towards the maintenance of the kiosk and the pump.
HFHM was also instrumental in helping to set up The Kauma Water Users Association. Its members were elected by the community to oversee all water operations. This includes the selling of water and the maintenance of infrastructure.
“We now have hygienic toilets, clean water and fertilizer,” beams Chief Kauma. “We still have a long way to go.”