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Malita with her 12-year-old twins Patricia and Patrick. Photo: Muiru Mbuthia


‘Water: too much or too little’ is the big issue facing Lent family in Malawi

"We didn’t used to have these extremes. Now we are seeing floods and droughts in the same year.” Malita, Malawi

The Trócaire Lenten Appeal this year aims to highlight the challenges faced by families in Malawi due to the effects of climate change in the southern African country.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world and a heavy dependence on agriculture renders it particularly susceptible to climate shocks, such as cyclones, flooding and droughts, which have a devastating impact on both peoples income and food security. Moreover, environmental degradation, notably deforestation and soil erosion, worsens agricultural productivity, perpetuating food insecurity and reinforcing the cycle of poverty that the nation strives to overcome.

Too little or too much water is a daily struggle for Malita and her family, who feature on this year’s Trócaire Box. Too little water and her children have to walk for hours to fetch it with a huge impact on their ability to attend school. Crops that the family depend on to survive wither and die. Too much water and the crops will also be destroyed. As climate change becomes increasingly dangerous and unpredictable across Malawi, causing devastating cyclones, flooding and droughts in already-vulnerable communities, Trócaire is asking the people of Ireland to donate to help Malita and her family, and others like them across the world, to build a more secure future.

Malita is a single mother to six children, including 12-year-old twins Patricia and Patrick. Their story is unfortunately one that’s typical in Malawi as they struggle every day with the many problems that water (or the lack thereof) causes the family, their livelihoods and the children’s prospects for education. Malita was already finding it a struggle to support her family before the burden of increased droughts and floods. Living in a small homestead in Machinga district, Malawi, Malita, the twins and two of their siblings, Margaret (age 16) and Kondwani (age 19) have no direct access to clean water for the household.

Every morning during the months August to November and up to five times a day, Malita and Patricia, Patrick and Margaret must walk an hour-long round trip to collect water from a nearby stream. This is the situation because the shallow well near their home dries up every year. Malita carries 20 litres of water back to the house in a bucket on her head. Malita reports that the dry season is becoming more prolonged in recent years, and droughts are becoming more frequent as the rains fail to arrive in the rainy season.

Malita makes an hour round trip up to five times a day to collect 20 litres of water. Photo: Muiru Mbuthia Malita makes an hour round trip up to five times a day to collect 20 litres of water. Photo: Muiru Mbuthia

It’s not uncommon that the family can an spend up to five hours every day fetching water. Some mornings, the journey to collect water means the twins are late for school or are too tired to go. By the time they return from the well, they have to walk a further 4km to school, but fortunately if they have missed breakfast, they can have some porridge there before they start classes.

Despite Malita and the children spending so much of their time collecting water for their home, it is not always safe to drink. As animals use the same water sources, Malita has to treat the water with chlorine tablets before they can drink it. Even then, the children still fall sick with sickness and diarrhoea every couple of months. When it’s serious enough, Malita has to walk with them to the hospital, a further 5km walk, to seek treatment.

As well as too little water through prolonged dry seasons and drought, the family also have to deal with too much water during the rainy season, increasingly contending with flooding and extreme cyclones. Malita’s house is typical of rural Malawi. The houses are built with locally-made clay bricks held together by mud and with a roof made of straw or sometimes a corrugated iron sheet. They offer little protection if a cyclone hits.

And the reality is that cyclones are becoming more frequent and more violent with each passing year. In March 2023, Cyclone Freddy damaged Malita’s home, destroying her kitchen and toilet. Her son Kondwani was injured and had to seek treatment in hospital. During that time, there was a week when the family had only water and sugar to survive on, as it was too dangerous to gather crops or firewood. Because the access roads around the homestead are made of mud, they flood easily and quickly become inaccessible during heavy rains, meaning the family, and many like them around their community, have limited access to the health centre which is 5km away.

Photo: Muiru Mbuthia Photo: Muiru Mbuthia

In 2023, the floods destroyed Malita’s crops, washing away all of her maize, her staple crop. In a good year, Maita would harvest eight bags of maize. Following Cyclone Freddy, she only had two. The floods are getting more frequent in the rainy season and for someone who has lived in the same community all of her life, Malita recognises these extremes as something she never saw before. “We didn’t used to have these extremes. Now we are seeing floods and droughts in the same year.”

Malita believes the extreme changes she’s seen in weather are down to climate change. When it comes to her farm, crops that need rain are damaged by drought but flooding also badly affects the farm’s productivity as the rain washes away the fertiliser and nutrients.

A loving mother, with a strong spirit she has instilled in her children, Malita’s biggest fear is not being able to provide for her family. But climate change and omnipresent challenges posed by water – too much and too little – are quickly making that fear a stark reality. Strengthened by her faith, she hopes to be able to provide for her family, for her children to get a good education so they can grow up to have good jobs in the community or beyond. When it comes to water, she prays for a safe water source closer to their home, which she says would make a “huge difference” to their lives.

Trócaire’s work in Malawi is focused on supporting communities, particularly women like Malita, to adapt their livelihoods to cope with the impact of climate change and ensuring families like hers can continue to survive when faced with the extremes of too much and too little water.

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Your support can change the lives of families like Malita’s in Malawi and all over the world. With your help, we can work with families when there is too much water, strengthening flood defences and emergency responses. When there is too little, we can help adapt irrigation systems and provide better access to safe water.

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Working with partners throughout Malawi, Trócaire’s programmes work to support communities to access safe water through the construction of water supply schemes; to sustainably manage their natural resources through agroforestry, soil and water conservation; to increase their access to food through supporting training in improved climate resilient agricultural practises and facilitating access to seeds and planting materials;  and to support women’s empowerment by providing training and support to women’s leaders in communities.

Watch our video below and meet the family on the 2024 Tócaire Box

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