Poor sanitation accounts for 52 percent of the total disease burden in Malawi, with diarrhoea alone accounting for seven per cent of under-five deaths, latest statistics have shown.
Acting Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Water and Sanitation, Joseph Magwira, has since called upon stakeholders in the water sector to scale up efforts to resolve water and sanitation challenges and ensure Malawi moves towards meeting the sixth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 6), which covers water and sanitation, by 2030.
Magwira made the call during the National Stakeholder Consultation Workshop for the Global Water Leadership Programme in Lilongwe on Wednesday.
Global Water Partnership organized the workshop to brainstorm the probable interventions that the Global Water Partnership, UNICEF and government can implement under the Global Water Leadership Programme.
Magwira said despite the sector facing financing challenges, Malawi is on course towards attaining the SDG 6 by 2030.
He cited a recent assessment, which shows that Malawi is on track to meet the 2030 targets related to water and sanitation with 87.9 percent of population having access to improved sources of drinking water.
"However, despite strides in improving availability of safe water, about 27 percent of the population walk for over an hour to access safe water. On sanitation, the assessment found that 80 percent of the population in Malawi uses improved sanitation facilities," he said.
Magwira added that despite this achievement, the SDG progress report warns that tropical cyclones Ana and Gombe earlier this year have potential to reverse the gains made on some SDGs, including Goal 6 on water and sanitation.
"It has already been established that water-related climate shock impacts heavily on the WASH sector. For instance, the World Bank estimates that Cyclone Idai in 2019 destroyed WASH infrastructure worth US$3.8 million. I am aware that this national stakeholder consultation comes after three regional consultative meetings where the Global Water Partnership engaged sector players to understand the challenges at local level and align them with those that may be identified at this national platform," he said.
Magwira urged the participants to interrogate issues such as quality of groundwater, which is what the country mostly relies on and how the country can mitigate the impact of weather-related shocks, which are becoming more frequent and devastating in the country.
"Let's discuss untreated wastewater and sanitation issues. We should also look at hindrances to private sector investment in the water and sanitation sector. I understand that at the regional level, players in the sector bemoaned the financial gap that exists for Malawi to continue to make strides around access and quality of water in the country, so, could private sector investment be a solution?"
"There is no better time to make tangible progress on water and sanitation than now when the government has demonstrated high level political will through the establishment of an independent Water and Sanitation Ministry. Now is the time to advocate for increased financial resources for the sector to make progress. It is government's expectation that this meeting would brainstorm on the challenges yes, but more importantly, on climate smart solutions that would ensure water and sanitation infrastructure withstands disasters," he said.
The acting PS assured that the solutions from the workshop would be integrated into the interventions the Global Water Partnership and UNICEF would come up with as they implement the Global Water Leadership Programme, a global initiative to support emerging leadership for improved water, sanitation and hygiene services, and climate resilience.
In her remarks, Global Water Partnership-Malawi National Coordinator, Deborah Muheka, said climate change and natural disasters pose a serious threat to Malawi's push for SDG 6 attainment.
Muheka also called for the updating of policies, observing that the existing ones could block the attainment of the goal on water and sanitation.
Meanwhile, Magwira said the Malawi Government commends GWL Programme for committing to provide support to governments in selected low and middle-income countries (LMICs) to become international models for water leadership, demonstrating the socio-economic transformations that can be accomplished by making climate-resilient and gender-transformative water management and WASH services a political priority.
Magwira expressed confidence that through the engagements, stakeholders will together identify the obstacles, creatively brainstorm on priority areas that require attention, suggest solutions after which the Global Water Partnership and UNICEF can analyse all the ideas and plan on interventions.
"The ministry appreciates efforts of all players in the sector as this is what would get the country to meet Goal 6 by 2030. We therefore pledge our full support during the implementation of the GWL Programme," he said.