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Published: July 14th 2016
Travel back to Lilongwe Malawi was long and uneventful. The border crossing was very slow. It was time to wrap up our trip and prepare to go home. We had a great group dinner at a local restaurant where many of us chose burgers and steak. I think we were all hankering for familiar food.
The morning of our departure the Habitat staff came to take many of us to a Habitat sponsored water and sanitation project. As one of the fastest urbanizing countries in the world, the housing and health situation in Malawi’s cities is desperate. People come to the cities to seek economic stability, only to find no work and limited shelter options. Growing numbers of overcrowded, low infrastructure slums border the city limits of Lilongwe. In partnership with the government and other NGOs, Habitat is working to address water and sanitation issues in these areas.
Given the high population density, sanitation and hygiene are major issues affecting the health of everyone living in the slums. Habitat is addressing this by building ‘ECOSAN’ latrines for small groups of neighbors. These eco-friendly latrines provide many benefits. They are physically safer than traditional pit latrines. By separating liquid and
solid waste they are virtually order free. The presence of disease carrying flies is minimal. This two sided latrine, allows one side to ‘cure or ferment’ while the other side is actively being used. After 6-9 months, the cured solids waste becomes valuable fertilizer that the villagers can either use on their own crops or sell at market rates to others. The cost to build an ECOSAN latrine is about $600 USD. This investment has shown, notable reduction is waste borne illnesses, (such as cholera), an improvement in sanitation and hygiene and an improvement in local crop yield. A family could earn enough to cover the cost of a ECOSAN latrine is less than three years by selling the precious fertilizer.
Habitat improves local hygiene by training groups of villagers to train their community on proper sanitation techniques and handwashing practices. This train the trainer approach, reaches many more community members and is more widely accepted when presented by local community members.
Access to adequate amounts of clean water in the slums is also critical to community health. Traditional bored wells offer an inconsistent, supply of often contaminated water. Habitat has partnered with the city government and a
local NGO to build water kiosks the slums. These kiosks sell city water for pennies to locals who then have a clean, reliable source of water for their families. The cost of water is minimal. It is just enough to pay for the water coming from the city.
As a person lucky enough to have been born in the developed world to a family that has easy access to all life’s basic needs, I am often overwhelmed by what I see when I travel in the developing world. In my daily life I never have to consider, if I have enough water or food, if I will get diseases from using the facilities or drinking the water, if my house will collapse when it rains or so many other challenges the people of the developing world face on a regular basis. Despite the difficult circumstances of their lives, the Malawians we met and worked alongside, have a joyful and faith filled spirit. I feel blessed to have been able to participate in this mission working towards a better life for others.
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