The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) released a paper yesterday that gives a comprehensive view on the state of water and sanitation in urban areas of Malawi through the lens of meeting the MGDs. This paper, written by a Malawian Professor/Consultant, delves into the dismal state of urban poor in Malawi and essentially says that Malawi’s proclaimed achievements towards meeting the MGDs for Water and Sanitation are crap.
Official 2006 Malawi stats show that 96% percent of the urban population have access to potable water and 97% have access to sanitation. Based on the results of this (albeit not an academically rigorous) study this situation is NOT likely!! The real problem comes in defining what ACCESS really means…If it means that 5 households have a neighbor who has one primitive pit latrine that they can use once in a while – then may be that data could be plausible. If access to water is defined by having a public tap that charges double the standard rate for potable (and many times not even clean enough to be considered potable) water and is only available at best for 6 hours a day (and sometimes not for a week at a time) – then the data could be plausible.
After living in Malawi for almost 2 years in a very nice area of the capitol, Lilongwe, I cannot believe this data. Even in my posh neighborhood, we had days where no water flowed from the tap and other days where the water was brown. If Malawi cannot provide reliable access to the wealthy, who are willing to pay anything for their water, how could they possibly claim to adequately serve the poor.
Malawi’s poor governance is surely to blame for this dismal situation but the international community and agencies like UNICEF also need step up. UNICEF continues to pour money into WASH projects in Malawi and has not been able to strengthen the corrupt broken system within the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Development (and MoH). They have focused on spending their own money and meeting arbitrary goals (often times set by their donors) while letting the bureaucrats take them (and their money) for a ride. Instead of focusing on drilling as many boreholes (regardless of location) as possible (with little investment for O&M), buying ArcGIS for each District Water Officer, and other marginally beneficial endeavors – UNICEF must step up , use their weight as the lead UN agency for water and sanitation, and try to honestly strengthen the system. Why would UNICEF and others support false data about the Water and Sanitation situation in Malawi? They too want to look good, right? They don’t want to press the government too hard, right? Make them think? Hold them to more rigours standards for data collection? (ok ok enough UNICEF ranting for now but I promise to justify some of these claims in a future post)
Here are a few interesting quotes from the paper:
“the policy to subsidize tariff to kiosks (MK44/m3) [in Blantyre] with the view that the poor should pay less for water is not achieving the intended results as the poor in the low-income area (kiosk customers) are paying three times (MK150–175/m3) more than the recommended tariff”. (Malawi Government, 2007c:75)
“Sanitation is under-emphasized in relation to water supply, despite the recognition of the inseparable link between them. Water supply is approached as an investment, while inadequate sanitation is regarded as an issue requiring increased education on hygiene behaviour. For
example, a sanitation marketing strategy has been developed to promote on-site sanitation, while for water supply an investment planning document 77 was prepared”