The Water of Life

Proper sanitation changes lives

Kauma Village is an informal settlement of more than 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, mostly unskilled, have been moving to Kauma from rural areas to find work. Incomes are as low as $50 (US) per month. HIV and AIDS have ravaged the community leaving 7,000 orphans in Kauma alone. There is enormous pressure on families to take the children in and care for them.

Because of its location, Kauma falls outside the normal services the Malawian government provides in Lilongwe. This means many people living there lack basic water and sanitation facilities. Diseases, when they occur, spread rapidly.

Habitat for Humanity Malawi (HFHM) recognized the need to support and help people in Malawi's burgeoning urban slum areas. 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 water and sanitation intervention. A beneficiary himself, he has worked closely with HFHM to expand the the Ecosan (ecological sanitation) program. To date, 130 families have the new Ecosan composting toilets—a waterless sanitation system that does not contaminate underground water. In addition, HFHM trained 20 local artisans in Ecosan latrine construction and 40 community members to run hygiene workshops for 1,250 families.

Families like the Lungu, Ngozo and Maston families have really benefited. The 17 members of the three families share one Ecosan toilet. They also erected a hand-washing system outside the toilet following HFHM's hygiene training session.

The new Ecosan toilet built for Diana and her family in Kauma Village.

The new Ecosan toilet built for Diana and her family in Kauma Village.

The new toilet has really helped. We don't have accidents anymore. 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.

— Diana Lungu

Managing waste to improve crop yields

Another benefit of the new Ecosan toilets is their ability to create manure. This has been a boon to the many inhabitants of Kauma who were once subsistence farmers. When they moved to the city, they lost access to vital sources of food and the income it generated when they lived in their villages. Because there is land nearby, they have started using the manure to fertilize the soil and grow food. And, with rising food prices, growing a portion of one's own food is crucial.

The Ecosan toilets recycle the contents of latrines which can then be applied as fertilizer for agricultural use. Chemical-free, it uses a biological process to break down fecal matter. After decomposing for six to nine months, the inexpensive manure can fertilize fields and avoid the need for expensive chemicals.

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.

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've come a long way but still have a long way to go."

Habitat for Humanity Malawi established five water kiosks, conveniently located throughout Kauma, providing 6,250 residents with clean drinking water.

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