Malawi’s Water Challenge

Building on nearly 2 decades of experience securing water sources for vulnerable communities in a number of sub-Saharan countries, Pump Aid today is focusing its efforts in rural Malawi where the need for clean water, functional sanitation and improved hygiene is great.


While Malawi is relatively rich in water resources, having a number of large lakes, rivers and aquifers, there are critical issues affecting the country’s water supply.

Abundant rainfall is necessary to feed the water table. In recent years, official sources have reported a number of erratic rainy seasons, which have been shorter in duration. The average rainy season normally starts in November and extends into April, and accounts for 95% of the country’s annual rainfall. Less rainfall means less water for human consumption as well as for crops, leading to food shortages.

While water sources are fairly numerous in Malawi, much of the population lives without access to a safe and protected water source that is:

  • Free from life-threatening micro-organisms
  • Protected from industrial
    and organic contamination
  • More resilient to extreme weather
    impacts such as droughts and floods

Of the country’s 16 million people:

Nearly 85% Live in Rural Areas
More Than 60% Live in extreme poverty

defined by the World Bank as subsistence on less than $1.25 a day.

Water poverty exacerbates the challenging conditions in which so many Malawians live.

Official estimates claim roughly 2.4 million people living in rural Malawi are without access to a safe water source, but the actual number may be twice as high – largely due to increasingly non-functional water points and a rapidly growing population. The population of Malawi currently stands at 17.2 million and continues to rise, with 12.7% of the population lacking access to improved water sources, 69% without treated, sanitary drinking water and nearly half (47.7%) of rural populations having to travel 30 minutes or more to obtain their drinking water.

The fact that nearly 60% of Malawians are subsistence farmers, and a further 20% are small-scale farmers increases their vulnerability to the lack of access to safe water. These challenges make our efforts to bring sustainable water and sanitation solutions to vulnerable rural communities even more urgent. Today Pump Aid is working across the underfunded districts of Kasungu and Mchinji, building on its strong ties to local authorities and the environmental suitability for elephant pump technology. According to the Malawi Irrigation and Water Draft Sector Performance Report 2010, Lilongwe rural (69%), Kasungu (64%) and Mchinji (67%) Districts have the lowest access to safe water in Malawi, and receive the least investments in water and sanitation.

According to the latest UNICEF report, water-borne diarrhoeal diseases are the second biggest killer of children under 5 years in Malawi – making the need for Pump Aid’s work vital for millions of people.