How an AfDB-funded project is building water-resilient systems in Malawi

AA – More than 500,000 trees have been planted as part of efforts by the African Development Bank (AfDB) to combat climate change and build water-resilient systems of rural communities in five districts of Malawi. Fourteen catchment management committees have also been created, and more than 200,000 people have benefitted from awareness-raising activities thanks to an AfDB-funded project.

“Building water-resilient infrastructures has been central to the AfDB’s work in Malawi. In alignment with the country’s National Adaptation Program of Action (NAPA), the AfDB designed the Sustainable Rural Water and Sanitation Infrastructure Project for Improved Health and Livelihoods (SRWSIHL) to empower local communities particularly women and youths to adapt further to the devastating effects of climate change,” says Oswald Chanda, Officer-in-Charge of the Water Development and Sanitation Department (AHWS).

“So far, these interventions have significantly contributed to building the resilience of affected communities through the rehabilitation and expansion of water and sanitation infrastructure as well as improved hygiene practices. These are smart ways of assisting the rural communities to climate proof and ensure inclusive access to water supply and sanitation in the five districts concerned,” says Chanda.

Malawi’s rainfall patterns experienced significant variation in the past decades because of climate change. Prolonged dry spells, droughts, and floods became frequent occurrences, devastating many communities and further exacerbating poverty. More than 6 million Malawians were left with a shortage of food including water scarcity because of the recent El Nino effect.

Like elsewhere in Africa, the African Development Bank (AfDB) in collaboration with Malawi’s Government decided to act and build stronger and resilient communities to cope with this scourge. Among a series of AfDB-supported interventions in different sectors, it approved SRWSIHL in April 2014. This project among other goals seeks to increase the resilience of water supply systems in five districts, namely, Rumphi, Nkhotakota, Ntcheu, Mangochi, and Phalombe.

The project has supported the rehabilitation of catchment areas, the creation of catchment management committees and training of communities on the importance of protecting the catchments for water sustenance. These communities are also supported with alternative livelihood activities such as beekeeping and animal rearing. Not only does this generate income for families, but it also discourages deforestation for charcoal production.

Enhancing sector reforms, strengthening the capacity of women and youth, building sector knowledge for better decision making and empowering capacities of district councils and rural communities were also core objectives of this project.

“The Bank has supported the government to implement the Decentralization Policy of 1998 specifically by empowering communities and district councils to develop and manage the water and sanitation services at the local level,” said Chanda.

“More than 16,500 people have started accessing clean water from 60 boreholes which have been commissioned. 240,000 pupils are accessing improved sanitation services from 147 sanitation facilities constructed. Women who have the responsibility of water collection, have more time now for farming and girls can get to school on time,” says Engineer Benson Nkhoma who leads AfDB’s operations in this sector in the Malawi Country Office.

Beneficiaries also noted that not only do they use more water than before, it is also of improved quality. Improved sanitation at village level has resulted in fewer cases of malaria.

“I am a free woman, now,” one beneficiary said when asked how access had affected her life. She added enthusiastically that she now has considerably more time for her daily activities.

The Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Initiative (RWSSI) Trust Fund is contributing Euro 2.7 million to fund the project. Other funding came from the African Development Fund (ADF), the Nigerian Trust Fund and the Government of Malawi. The total financing of the project is Euro 25.61 million.

By the time this project will be completed in 2019, about 516,000 people are expected to have gained access to improved water supply and 575,000 to improved sanitation.

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