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Moving Forward: One year after Cyclone Idai in Malawi

Published 03/13/2020 by Global Communities

A year ago this month, Sera Mosque was one of thousands of structures facing a risky road to recovery following the destruction of Cyclone Idai in Malawi. As a primary place of worship and community hub in the Molipa village of Machinga district, the mosque became a key location to curb the threat of water-borne illnesses, which often spike after flooding.

“This being a place where people usually gather, it is important that we maintain good sanitation,” said Fanny Gideon, caretaker for Sera Mosque. “The latrine we have been using has a poor substructure, as the wooden poles supporting it decomposed.”

According to the Government of Malawi, severe weather and flooding destroyed close to 62,000 latrines throughout Machinga and Zomba districts. These areas also reported extensive damage to homes, water supply systems, roads, bridges, schools, health facilities and other public infrastructure.

As a result, nearly 87,000 people in Malawi were displaced by the cyclone and had to find refuge in temporary camps without sufficient access to shelter or water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities. Living in overcrowded, temporary shelters increases risk of infections like hepatitis A, typhoid, and scabies, while putting additional pressure on the remaining functional WASH infrastructure.

To help people impacted by the disaster, Project Concern International (PCI) partnered with the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) to implement the Machinga-Zomba Cyclone Idai (MAZI) Response project. The goal of the project was to expand access to clean water, improve hygiene and sanitation, and help prevent the spread of water-borne diseases among targeted communities in the two districts.

Over the course of six months (Aug. 2019 – Jan. 2020), the MAZI Response team:

  • Mobilized communities to construct 14,000 household latrines;
  • Rehabilitated 209 boreholes;
  • Provided 27,000 households with Waterguard to disinfect their water; and
  • Promoted proper hygiene and sanitation practices through awareness-raising campaigns.

In total, the project reached 65,585 people with improved sanitation services and 152,828 people with clean water.

One project intervention included identifying and training local artisans to assist community members with building simple, permanent pit latrines for their homes. While the MAZI Response team provided raw materials and technical assistance, community members contributed labor and locally available materials like sand and stone. The new sanitation platforms (SanPlats) are designed to withstand adverse weather conditions and, when necessary, to accommodate people with physical disabilities and the elderly.

“I have taken personal initiatives to encourage communities, through my chiefs, to have this technology at each household,” said Senior Chief Sitola, a local leader in Machinga district. “This innovation offers durable latrines.”

After recognizing how local families benefited from the SanPlats, the management team for Sera Mosque raised support from its congregants and other community members to construct two SanPlats on site. Now, they no longer have to worry about lost investments, safety issues or environmental drawbacks from traditional pit latrines that were prone to collapsing each year.

“The SanPlat is ideal for this place, as it is easy to clean and, if properly anchored, offers strength,” said Gideon, a caretaker for Sera Mosque. “We are happy that the use of [wooden] poles, which was also contributing to deforestation challenges, will soon be history.”

Other project interventions included rehabilitating boreholes (drilled water wells); distributing water disinfectants to vulnerable households; and promoting proper hygiene and sanitation practices through awareness-raising campaigns.

According to final evaluation results, improved water points significantly reduced the average time that women and girls spent fetching water for their families, from 47 to 16 minutes. Moreover, the proportion of households with a handwashing station doubled, notably at a level three times higher than the national average. In total, the MAZI Response project reached 65,585 people with improved sanitation services and 152,828 people with clean water.