Solar water pumping system at Mahowe CBO

The Challenge

One of the biggest challenges across the African continent is to provide access to clean and safe water (SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation).  As it stands, members of many Malawian communities must travel long distances to find a potable water source; a task often carried out by women who, on one hand lose several hours of their day which could be used for other more productive tasks, and on the other are exposed to the risk of physical and sexual abuse during the journey to their water source.

That is not to say that water is in limited supply in Malawi—in fact, the country has numerous natural water sources such as lake Malawi, rivers, streams, ponds, springs and aquifers— however, the main challenge is in accessing sustainable technologies to pump, store, treat and pipe water to rural communities. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 40% of Africa’s Sub-Saharan population still lacks access to safe water.

Renewable Energy Solution

Through the Community Energy Development Programme (CEDP), a water pumping system was installed in each of the two districts of Balaka and Chitipa. The installations were made of 4 x 85 watt solar panels which provide power to a pump which is submerged in a water well. Two tanks mounted on a higher ground are used for water storage. Kiosks are constructed at strategic village locations within a 1 km radius for people to access the water closer to their villages. Community Energy Malawi (CEM) trained locals in running the systems and making sure that water is available at all times.

Chitipa water pump

Women accessing potable water in Chitipa District

In Chitipa, the topography of the area made it very difficult for people to find a reliable water source. Women and girls would walk for 5 kilometers to access potable water.

Through CEDP, a water pump was installed within the grounds of Mpini Umodzi Primary School, providing potable water to pupils and teachers as well as the wider community.

“We are very grateful to the Scottish Government through CEM and the University of Strathclyde for the solar water pumping initiative. We used to walk long distances to access a borehole but now we have water right within our communities. We now spend most of our time doing productive work.” –Lidess Simwaka, Chitipa

Project Outcomes

Potable water pumping has proved to be a very viable intervention for rural communities; each system benefits between 5000 and 8000 people living around the water source. Thousands of liters of water are drawn each day to provide potable water for households and institutions, especially schools and clinics for children less than five years old. As such neighboring communities who have poor access to water  are seeking interventions similar to these to solve their water challenges.

The Future

Currently, CEDP only reaches around 3% of the communities in need of potable water in Chitipa district and 2% in Balaka District; as such, there are still many people in need of potable water in the two districts. Access to potable water is key to ensuring a healthy population and community development while having a reliable and local water source also reduces a time-burden on women in particular.

Community Energy Malawi (CEM) sees huge potential in solar water pumping and is keen to pilot more systems. It is hoped that the introduction of an asset management plan will enable expansion and replication of solar water pumping projects in pursuit of SDG 6 (Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all).