Communities seek emergency sanitation after Malawi floods wash away latrines


By Thokozani Chimbalanga, Field Coordinator. Additional reporting by Telephorus Chigwenembe, Communication & Learning Specialist.

Ferocious floods that have hit fifteen of Malawi’s twenty eight districts have destroyed thousands of latrines in Phalombe and Chikhwawa, where Global Sanitation Fund-supported projects are being implemented - certainly a call for innovative programming to respond to the impact of the calamity that threatens to erode the sanitation and hygiene gains registered in the two districts so far. From January this year, heavy and continuous rainfall has resulted in devastating floods that have destroyed property and claimed at least 200 lives. Hundreds of others remain unaccounted for. In some cases, the floods have swept away a whole village.

An impact assessment visit to Phalombe and Chikhwawa by the GSF Plan Malawi team, the Country Programme Monitor and the Programme Coordinating Mechanism revealed the magnitude of the effect of the floods on sanitation in the districts, including the area of Kaduya, that had recently passed an open-defecation free status test by the National ODF Task Force. In Kaduya, 26 of the area’s 62 villages have been severely hit. Thousands of people have been displaced and are in camps, mostly schools, where they are exerting untold pressure on a few latrines meant for pupils and teachers. At the time of the visit, the actual number of latrines that had collapsed had not yet been established. 

In Chikhwawa, a total of 1,865 latrines in the area Lundu have collapsed due to the heavy rains and floods. In Kutulo, declared ODF in November 2014, 82 of the village’s 97 latrines have collapsed. In Katalawo, where a total of 70 out of 75 villages had been declared ODF, latrine coverage has dropped from 94% to 83.3% due to the collapsing of latrines, forcing people who once lived in an open-defecation free environment to revert to defecating in the open. “Our family does not have a choice but defecate in the bush”, Noah Sande of Katalawo village told the GSF team.

The GSF team inspecting what used to be Sande family’s latrine

By reverting to open defecation due to the loss of latrines, flood victims such as Sande and his family are courting the same problems they had shielded themselves from when they adopted fixed place defecation.

Olive Bewu, Health Surveillance Assistant responsible for the area encompassing Kutolo village, described the situation as regrettable: “People who had just been convinced to stop open defecation have now slipped back to the old habit. We struggled to make this village open defecation free and now we are back to where we started from.”


Meanwhile, GSF project implementing partner in Phalombe, Concern Universal, and the District Coordinating Team are already on the ground, responding to the effects of the floods on the status of sanitation and hygiene.

Concern Universal and the District Coordinating Team are conducting campaigns to encourage affected communities to remain steadfast in sanitation and hygiene practices, even while in their temporary shelters. This is not without its own challenges, though.“It is currently difficult for people to construct emergency latrines because of the high ground water levels in the flooded areas, hence making it difficult to dig new latrines”, said District Environmental Health Officer Hollystone Kafanikhale. The impact assessment team also established that in addition to challenge cited by the District Coordinating Team, some areas had been rendered hard to reach due to unfriendly roads, leaving some affected areas with little or minimal support.

Malawi GSF CoP (seated centre), PCM member ( standing behind CoP), CPM member ( to the CoP’s left) and other team members in a boat trying to access an affected area in Mwenyama village, Phalombe district, during the impact assessment exercise

The sanitation and hygiene campaigns have also been extended to centres where some affected people are camping to avert possible disease outbreaks, according to Kafanikhale.  Reports indicate that up to 22 thousand households in Phalombe are being accommodated in about 62 camps, most of which are schools. So far, about 56 schools in the district have been turned into camps. Some community-based child care centers are also said to be housing some displaced households.

Glimmer of hope

Meanwhile, the impact assessment team led by Malawi Global Sanitation Fund chief Amsalu Negussie established that amidst the devastation caused by the floods, some community members in the affected areas are constructing temporary latrines. “My latrine was swept away by the rains. I therefore decided to erect an emergency temporary facility because I did not want my kids and me to go back to the bush to relieve ourselves”, said Angella Juwawo, a mother of two from Kutulo village. “I am now thinking that after the rains I should construct a latrine with a design that can survive the floods.”

Angella Juwawo’s emergency latrine under construction

The case of Angella Juwawo and many others including the village head who are constructing temporary latrines excited Malawi GSF Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist Mike Khoza who described the development as positive. Malawi GSF Sanitation and Hygiene Technical Specialist Twitty Munkhondia says there is need for strengthened resilience strategies.

“The reported losses can be attributed to a combination of factors. However, one way of minimizing losses in future is the introduction of technologies that can help latrines withstand such harsh conditions as heavy rains” said Munkhondia.

With financial support from the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council through the Global Sanitation Fund and Plan International,  Malawi is implementing a five year Accelerated Sanitation and Hygiene Practices Programme in Rumphi, Nkhotakota, Ntchisi, Phalombe, Balaka and Chikhwawa districts on behalf of the Malawi Government.