EWB in Malawi – Water and Sanitation 2010
A weblog by Shehin Rahemtulla – University of Victoria Junior Fellow for Engineers without Borders

-Project details for Nathenje’s District Water Office, Malawi


The wat/san team has decided to focus our efforts in two areas we believe have the potential to drive change for the big problems the sector is working hard to solve – the sustainability and equitable distribution of water infrastructure in rural Malawi, sanitation behaviour change in communities, and the capacity for government and NGOs to respond to these issues.

1) One area of focus is rural water point functionality. In Africa, donor-financed water infrastructure has had a poor track record for sustainability. Research by UNICEF in Malawi demonstrates that similar sustainability challenges exist. Current estimates indicate that as high as 30% of all water infrastructure in Malawi is non functional at any given time. If such trends continue, it bodes ill for the longevity of the huge new investment in Malawian water infrastructure and for the previously installed water points.  Sadly, the main reason for so much failure of water infrastructure sustainability in rural Africa has been a simple lack of appropriate effort.  EWB would like to see attention refocused on water point functionality.  Too often it is a simple spare part that needs to be replaced that is keeping communities from accessing safe drinking water.  We would also like to see new approaches being created to ensure operation and maintenance of boreholes.

EWB is working at multiple levels in the Malawian water sector to help solve these problems – with local mechanics charged with the task of repairing boreholes, with traditional leadership with influence over peoples’ actions for water supply, with NGOs working to solve these problems, and with the national government who is designing the policy environment.

Another field level issue that requires attention is one of community sanitation behaviours.  The sector is working to find ways for people to see the negative consequence of open defecation and the value of building and using latrines.  One way of creating this change is through Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) approaches. CLTS involves sparking the recognition in communities that open-defecation results in everyone eating one another’s biological waste. We’re hoping to understand how possible CLTS success is in a variety of conditions (community-related, implementer-related, and policy-related). We are hoping our CLTS learning experience provides evidence and opportunity to highlight best practices (action instructed by learning) and essential strengths (flexibility, impact-focus, pragmatism) for affecting sanitation behaviour change and building management capacity in implementing organizations.  EWB’s work on CLTS is important as it helps us to achieve our goals for building government capacity, described below.


2) The other area of focus is on capacity of government to respond to water  and sanitation issues in the community.

Since 1998, Malawi has been undergoing a process of government decentralization.  The decentralization policy dictates that resources, administration, and planning should be devolved from national administrative centres to the 28 districts in Malawi, local government offices that see their responsibilities increasing faster than their capacity to meet them. The capacity of these districts remains lows as most resources and decision making power is still centralized at the national level.

Water initiatives in Malawi are mostly implemented at the district level, and as such, poor management in district departments leads to poorly delivered services and projects.  By working alongside district leadership, we are hoping to create strong leadership capable of innovating, motivating, and delivering strong programs.  EWB is playing an important role in support of these local government organizations by supporting district level innovations and leadership capacity to improve water access and promote sanitation behaviour change (like hand washing and building latrines).  We support districts by helping them design methods of collecting and using information about their district’s water supply (you need to know where your broken boreholes are before you can fix them!), helping develop leadership and management capacity (for planning, management of resources, communication, etc.), and supporting management in CLTS implementation.

In all, 7 Junior fellows from all over Canada will be working within the Wat/San team this summer. All of the Wat/San JFs will be situated in Malawi.


Malawi: A landlocked country South of Tanzania, East of Zambia, West of Mozambique. Lake Malawi lies to the NorthEast

Basic Services Development Agency (BASEDA) in Nathenje, Lilongwe, Malawi is a local Malawian NGO.  It was founded in 2005 to take over a number of projects previously supported by Inter Aide. Currently, BASEDA is working in the areas of water point functionality, and HIV/AIDS awareness. They are funded primarily through UNICEF and Inter Aide, with whom they collaborate regularly.

BASEDA has been running a successful Operation and Maintenance (O&M) system for rural water points in Lilongwe since 2005 as part of its Madzi ndi Moyo Mjigo Usafe project (or Madzi Mjigo for short). I will be working primarily with one of the Maintenance Assistants for Madzi Mjigo, who is responsible for selecting, training, and overseeing Local Artisans (LAs) that repair hand pumps. They also oversee the distribution of hand pump spare parts through groceries and hardware stores supported by Madzi Mjigo.

My job will be to focus on exploring the relationships that exist between the local artisans, Lilongwe District water office (DWO) staff and NGOs in the water and sanitation sector. Through weekly visits to the Lilongwe District Assembly, I will have the opportunity to gain insight into water point functionality issues from DWO staff, and to build the relationship between BASEDA and the District Assembly. I will also be providing assistance in the development of the BASEDA and DWO water point monitoring systems, and enhancing compatibility between the systems. But…. I’ve been told that this is just the start – there are plenty of opportunities to have an impact on both BASEDA, the DWO, and Malawians on the ground!


Nathenje is 17km South East of the capital, Lilongwe

I will be working with my counterpart, Julius Masebo, one of the Maintenance Assistants for BASEDA’s Madzi Mjigo project in Lilongwe East at BASEDAs field office in Nathenje.  Nathenje is a small trading center with power in some areas, located along the tarmac between Lilongwe and Dedza districts.  It is about thirty minutes (17 kilometres) outside of Lilongwe city, Malawi’s capital, so I will be very close to a few long-term overseas volunteers (APS).  In this area the predominant language is Chichewa, though many people are fluent in English.

Nathenje seen from Google Earth: 1km by 0.7 km


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2 Responses to “-Project details for Nathenje’s District Water Office, Malawi”

  1. Hey Shehin,
    Many thanks for the concise information re. EWB’s involvement in Malawi, specifically, the project details in Nathenje. EWB’s focus on sustainability, equitable water distribution, as well as, appropriate effort through water point functionality are laudable!
    EWB is obviously serious in their (stupendous) goal to help, by devising a solution that includes empowering the local community through education, training and continued support.
    Many thanks and look forward to checking in for updates on your awesome blog.
    All the best to you all.

  2. Hi Shehin,

    We had a celebration at your parents home on (July 24) and Rozy
    Aunty was talking about you and your experiences and I asked her to send me your blog info.
    Some of your experiences, we can relate to when we lived in Kampala and saw the natives living conditions, plus we had some native students in our school.
    Aside from the fact that you are adorable. What you are doing is amazing and great work. I’m really glad you help other people along the way and have gained a lot of experience, though some have been very tough!
    When we left Uganda, we lost all the material stuff, but our education, experience and dealing with worldly matters etc will always stay with us – No-one can take that away from you.
    I was wondering, if I can share your blog info., with my co-workers at SFU.
    Keep up the good work, God bless.
    Anu Mama

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