The Water Crisis in Biantyre City and Its Impact on Women: The Cases of Mabyani and Ntopwa, Malawi

By Chipeta, Lucy | Journal of International Women's Studies, May 2009 | Go to article overview

The Water Crisis in Biantyre City and Its Impact on Women: The Cases of Mabyani and Ntopwa, Malawi


Chipeta, Lucy, Journal of International Women's Studies


Abstract

Water crises tend to impact women and men of different ages differently. In most cultures, women of different ages are primarily responsible for the use and management of water resources, sanitation and health at the household level. They are the ones who fetch water, use water for domestic purposes and therefore are affected by the impact of water crises and poor sanitation. The women and girls especially in rural areas walk long distances to fetch water while men rarely participate in such activities. This therefore puts women at a more disadvantaged position when water is scarce or when there are disruptions in the supply systems in the case of urban areas. This paper documents the experiences of women of different ages in the advent of water scarcity in the city of Blantyre. The study utilized a participatory method in collecting data. Literature was also consulted to complement field findings. The data was manually transcribed, coded and analysed by using narratives and content analysis thus highlighted the main themes and sub-themes which provide the basis for presentation of the results. The study found that women especially girls experience the impact more than boys and that their school attendance and performance is disrupted. Provision of the water facilities allow girls and women to equitably compete with the boys in productive activities.

Keywords: Water crisis, Malawi, water and gender

Introduction

Water crises are common in Malawi's major urban areas; women and girls' activities are disrupted as a result of these crises. Although access to safe water is a basic human right and essential for achieving gender equality (freeing women and girls from spending long hours fetching water), sustainable development and poverty alleviation Blantyre city in particular is facing a lot of water scarcity challenges. This does not spare any particular group of people but it is more acute among the poorest urban dwellers. This paper assesses the impact of a water crisis on households in Blantyre city focusing on the urban poor and it also documents some of the coping strategies that have been adopted by the community. The paper is based on the study on access to water conducted in Blantyre as part of the "Cities without Slums" programme and a study on gender and generation under the Gender Research on Urbanization Planning, Housing and Everyday Living (GRUPHEL). The two studies among others identified the problems that slum dwellers face in accessing water and also how the households cope with such problems. The paper highlights the experiences of households in the low-income housing area of Mbayani and Ntopwa in Blantyre. Firstly it presents the right based approach framework to water; it then covers the methodological approach to the study, and then documents the experiences of the women in Mbayani and Ntopwa.

The main objective of the paper is to document the experiences of the women in Mbayani and Ntopwa in relation to water problems. This includes documenting the problems women face in accessing water, the coping strategies that they use to sustain themselves in times of water scarcity and then analyze the policy and institutional framework for the provision of water and the challenges that water providers face. Finally recommendation and way forward will be suggested.

Access to Water as a Human Right

Lack of adequate water to meet their daily needs is a reality for many people around the world especially in developing countries and this has serious health implication (WHO 2007). The lack of water is critical among the poorest people and it has been reported as the main cause of ill health and death among the poor in developing countries. According to United Nations World Water Development report, water related diseases are among the most common diseases causing death in the developing countries. For example in 2000 insufficient sanitation and hygiene claimed about 2,213,000 lives and presently about 1.

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