Malawi’s extreme climate brings devastation to the rural areas. Cyclones in 2015, 2019 and 2022 caused massive loss of life and livelihoods. Violent rainstorms battered vulnerable communities with high winds and floods, destroying homes, toilet buildings and crops in the field.
Immediately we were able to help with emergency water containers and plastic sheeting, but after the land dried out a bit after these disasters, we set to work to help the distressed. We rebuilt homes and public buildings, but one of our main concerns was sanitation and risk of disease.
So we built public toilets of brick on low land where there was a further risk of serious flooding, and individual family units on higher ground.
A broken down toilet is a disaster in rural Malawi—leaving little alternative to using the open fields! No sewerage system in the bush, just carefully constructed long-drop latrines, outside homes.
Imagine how that would feel if, like Memory, you were blind, AIDS-affected, and struggling, then your toilet was suddenly destroyed when a cyclone devastated your area. We’d built her previous facility several years before, along with a little house near her elderly mother—her main carer. However, so many of her neighbours’ toilets gradually crumbled and they’d used hers, so it became overwhelmed and finally crashed down in the storms.
Because of the local need, we constructed a sturdy brick-built public facility on the edge of her land with two compartments—one a “long-drop” toilet, and the other a washroom, both under a secure metal roof.
It’s just a simple facility, but life transforming, and valued by about 60 people without personal sanitation, from 2 villages. It’s expected to be in use for around 15 years, as the hand-dug pit beneath is extra-deep (4m) and brick-lined for stability and safety.
Memory’s family are proud to provide the water, cleaning and oversight, and caring for it gives Memory a valuable task in the community.
Another unit was built following two cyclones in 2022, which left communities in chaos and homes and outbuildings flattened. Msikita, a large sprawling village in a lowland area, was badly affected, with collapsed buildings and severe flooding.
Many personal toilets were destroyed but because the area’s so at risk, we constructed a sturdy public toilet next to the Community Centre to serve over 40 families plus all the children in the nursery school for many years to come.
Family toilets in the rural areas are separate buildings housing pit latrines, but are vulnerable to extreme weather—hundreds have been destroyed in our area during cyclones as the shelters collapsed and the pits filled with rubble.
At these times, we urgently identify the most vulnerable households —those containing the frail, ill or any particularly at risk, and not strong enough to dig pits or provide shelters— and get to work.
The most important part of these toilets is the pit—the shelters are valuable for dignity and privacy of course, but many of the beneficiaries hope to eventually replace them with a brick structure when the emergency has passed.
Pits are hand-dug first, 3m deep, then covered with a layer of sturdy bamboo, plastic sheeting to protect from termites, and finally, mud to dry as a firm floor. The shelters are finished in grass supplied by the beneficiary, involved and thankful, and protected by plastic sheeting over a framework of bamboo. They’re expected to serve for several years, depending on usage.
We’ve built hundreds of these units and even won a national achievement award from the Department of Health for helping to prevent cholera and reducing the health risks associated with the many challenges of poor sanitation.
But it’s not only environmental disasters that prompt the need for new toilet facilities.
Michesi Primary is a school with over 900 pupils and a staff of 28, and they had just 2 toilet cubicles to serve so many .....
So what did we do?
We built a toilet block for girls...