It was our final full day visiting communities in Malawi today. The difference made to both villages by addressing the issues of hygiene and sanitation was clearly evident. In both places they now have latrines for each house, which put a much-overdue end to open defecation around their villages.

However, the difference between the two villages is access to safe water. One has running water, since WaterAid and its partners restored a remote treated water distribution network. It was originally built in the 1980s but the management infrastructure of the network was never established before the government devolved the running of it. As such, it was never maintained and fell into disrepair.

Visiting Mphanje village; image shows the source of untreated waterNow well-established local groups are working with WaterAid to restore the network and increase the water resources – but unfortunately this takes time. The residents of Mbuluma village have access to a tap to fill buckets and it was clear how much this rural farming community was prospering. In Mphanje village, however, the ritual of collecting mucky water from what can only be called a shallow hole in the corner of a field continues. It’s a proud and vibrant village, but the impace is extensive diarrhoea and other infections, especially when the hole is shared by animals such as goats, dogs and pigs. When the dry season comes they have to walk three kilometres to a river that is even worse quality than the one they usually use. The women of the village make multiple visits (three times a day normally) which takes a huge amount of time, especially as they usually have to queue too.

This was hard to witness – I wouldn’t want my dog to drink that water, but they have to, without any form of treatment. They wash with it, cook with it and clean with it too.

The good news is that WaterAid is helping to ensure that the pipe network is repaired and that new sources of water are found. Hopefully this means that villages like Mphanje will have safe, clean water in the near future.

It has been an eye opening week in the heart of Africa, in a country that is so friendly and welcoming. The work of the fabulous WaterAid team here is making a real difference to Malawi. I’ve found the level of poverty in Malawi and the complexity of resolving the situation here incredibly sad, but more than that it’s so frustrating. But as I leave this beautiful country, it is so clear to me why we should support the work of WaterAid. Improving the conditions of those who are born into a poverty where without help they cannot access safe water, sanitation and hygiene is so important – keep going WaterAid…