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Water woes breed sexual abuse

raped, impregnated and infected with a sexually transmitted disease

Elube (not her real name) aged 25 had a dream of becoming a nurse after completing her education, but as fate has it, her dream was shuttered two years ago.

She got raped, impregnated and infected with a sexually transmitted chronic disease which entails taking medication every day for the rest of her life.

Besides that, she is nursing a 2 year old child, born from the rape encounter which happened on her way to search for safe and clean water.

“My life is doomed, and there is no hope for a better one as per my dreams. I was raped on my way to a borehole which is about five kilometres from my home” Elube narrates her ordeal with a teary expression.

“I got pregnant and this is the baby that was born out that sad incident” she points at the baby sitting on her lap during our conversation.

She adds “As this was not enough, months later after being raped, I got diagnosed with a sexual transmitted disease”.

She did not have an opportunity of accessing psychological and counselling as a rehabilitation support after her ordeal.

This sad tale of Elube summarises the struggle women and girls face to access portable water in peri-urban and rural areas of Malawi.

Shockingly, Elube is not from the rural and deep end of Malawi. She is from Chadzunda area, located approximately 20 kilometres from Blantyre Commercial Business District (CBD).

A visit to the area, specifically in Kapuchi and Njowe villages, established that about 60 households draw water from streams, swamps and other unprotected water sources.

Communities there, only access portable water at a distance of 5 kilometres, which is practically impossible for most of the households.

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This raises questions on how city and district councils implement water projects to ensure that communities have access to clean water including provision of Chlorine for treating the water towards making it safe for drinking.

A group of women collaborated Elube’s ordeal.

Unfortunately, Elube has to use the unsafe water when taking her daily medication.

She is just an example of many women and girls that have been exposed to sexual abuse in a quest to access clean water.

“Some of us have been lucky we survived such incidents so many times because we managed to escape. We could not ask our husbands to escort us all the time. It is thus, a tall order for women headed families,” explains Naphiri, a representative of the group.

Naphiri who cannot remember her age but looks over 50 years old continued to share the sad tales of their search for clean water.

“We therefore just resorted to use the unprotected water sources and waterborne diseases have become part of us. It is only God that saves us. At my age, I have never seen a borehole or any source of portable water in this area,” Naphiri adds.

A woman drinks water from an unsafe manmade pond

Elected leaders such as Members of Parliament (MP) and Ward Councillors have been a disappointment to the communities, all for their empty campaign promises of improved water supply.

A youth representative in the 2 villages Matius Mbewe has lost interest in voting, saying “elected leaders use our votes just to enrich themselves instead of serving the interests of our community.”

“Even during the campaign period, they come here to launch football tournaments, what for? We desperately need clean water and good education,” says a visibly angry Matius.

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Group Njowe and Kapuchi helplessly watch their households struggling with waterborne diseases and life threatening scenarios in search of clean water.

“Our only hope is you, Capital Radio to spread the word and let people know about our desperation, because we have exhausted all our efforts to demand portable water,” Njowe surrenders.

Nankumba Community Based Organisation has been knocking at every door in a quest to save lives of people in Kapuchi and Njowe villages.

The organisation’s Executive Director John Machika believes the media is crucial to ending this water problem in the area, hence engaging Capital Radio, which responded by visiting the area to appreciate the situation.

This is an area represented by Nicholas Kachingwe as an MP and Mussa Chikwawa as the councillor. They both could not be reached on this matter.

Capital Radio also contacted authorities at both the district and city council, but they are yet to provide their responses.

But the Minister of Natural Resources, which encompasses water development, Nancy Tembo expressed shock that communities, on the outskirts of the commercial city, have no access to such a basic need and resource.

“This is an urgent matter that needs urgent action. People’s lives should not continue to be at risk when it is possible to provide them with portable water,” Tembo responded.

The minister has since promised to personally follow up the matter.

Currently, it is illegal to drill boreholes in peri-urban areas, as per the country’s water supply policy, but Tembo explains that the issue at hand needs special attention.

The Minister says “the government will not hesitate to provide a borehole or any other reliable, safe and sustainable water supply to communities in Kapuchi and Njowe to save lives.”

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The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal-SDG 6 calls countries to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by the year 2030.

Malawi therefore needs to engage its speed gear to achieve the goal whose specific thematic areas include universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all as well as sustainable supply of fresh water.

Currently, about 4 million people do not have access to safe and hygienic water sources, according to a Water and Sanitation-WASH project implemented by the Ministry of Health with funding from USAID.

Additionally, access to safe drinking water is a basic human right and essential for achieving gender equality and sustainable development.

It is stated that gender equality means that everyone must be able to enjoy the rights to water and sanitation equally, but women and girls remain vulnerable.

This is because women and girls are responsible for water collection in 8 out of 10 households with water off premises, according to the WHO and UNICEF surveys done in 2017.

It is also collaborated by the Gender-disaggregated Data on Water and Sanitation: Expert Group Meeting Report published in May 2010.

Elube and the rest of the women in her community are now keeping their fingers crossed, as the top water authority has assured them of swift action in ensuring they have access to safe water.

It is only after the authority fulfils the promise, that these women will enjoy a safe environment and access water, without looking back over their shoulders to stand guard for their own safety.

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