Sunday, January 30, 2011

The rains continue in Lilongwe, promising a strong harvest and prosperity in the coming year. Some villages have begun to see shortfalls in last year’s harvest as they scramble for other sources of sustenance such as cassava and potatoes grown in their winter gardens during the dry months.

This week, we saw the results of the water quality test we performed on Friday, 14 January 2011. Just looking at the coliform count plate tempted my gag-reflex: there were 29 colonies of E. coli in 1 ml of Mziza’s drinking water. According to World Health Organization standards, 1 to 10 colonies per milliliter represents a high risk of illness and greater than 10 colonies represents a very high risk.

We are discussing ways to improve the water quality at Mziza. Ideas range from covering the well to solar purification. Covering the well is a must, but may not be sufficient to keep contaminants out. The bucket is thrown into the well 50 times a day, depositing bacteria and food for bacteria each time. Putting a pump on the well will reduce the contamination due to fetching water. Protecting the pump from wind and dirt will also reduce the amount of bacteria in the water. In the end, the well may not be deep enough to eliminate contamination from run-off.

We tested bore-hole water from an enclosed suction pump at Mgwayi village, approximately 40 miles from Mziza, and discovered 1 E. coli colony per milliliter: a high risk water source. The question remains open on the best method of fetching, pumping, storing, and purifying water, and there is no silver bullet. However, we will make some changes to the well at Mziza and continue testing the water. In the meantime, we will encourage people to use chemical treatments or boiling to purify their water.

Friday, January 14, 2011

First community meeting at Mziza

We held a community meeting at Mziza this morning, an introduction to the activities we hope to carry out this year. In true African stile, the Blessings Malamba and I were sat in fancy chairs beside the chief, the men on the ground to our right, the women to our left.

We discussed the idea of planting about 30 water pumps in their various gardens. *applause* We told them what we would require of them: to provide all trees and planks for the pump, to produce 1 ton of compost, to plant half their garden with indiginous vegetables, and to attend all meetings for the project. *applause* They really appreciated that we would not let anyone float by without doing the work. There is far more jealousy when someone gets something they didn't work for than when someone is exclude for failure to work.

I also tested their water source with this kit from 3M. The community are eager to see the results, which we explained would show not only the presence or absence of E. coli, but also the concentration of the bacteria.

It was a promising meeting, promising as much hard work ahead as anything. Blessings and I left optimistic that at least some of the people present would really use the pump technology to improve their health, home and community.