SEGH Articles

In Malawi "simple is not easy"

01 March 2013
Effectiveness of sanitation, hygiene practices, and water supply interventions serving Malawi and the surrounding countries.

Dr Rochelle Holm's home is Mzuzu in Malawi, but she is originally from Washington State in the USA.  Rochelle served as a volunteer for 10 years leading African natural resource management and water quality projects before accepting the current permanent position at Mzuzu University. For 8 years Rochelle managed $1M/year soil and groundwater clean-up projects for the United States Department of Energy and Department of Defense.  Rochelle also served as a Natural Resource Management Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali, West Africa, 2002-2003.  Through Rochelle's volunteer experiences,  relationships were developed, and combined with her professional project management experience, led her to have a passion for the water and sanitation sector throughout Africa, a great fit for Rochelle's current role.

 

In Malawi, “simple is not easy”

Environmental Science is not always simple, though in the northern region of Malawi, Africa, there is a saying “simple is not easy.”   Malawi is a developing country located in southeastern Africa.  In 2009, the Mzuzu University Centre of Excellence in Water and Sanitation was established under the Department of Water Resources Management and Development within the Faculty of Environmental Sciences.  The primary objective of the Centre is to improve the effectiveness of sanitation, hygiene practices, and water supply interventions serving Malawi and the surrounding countries.  The Centre participates in applied research, water quality analysis, training, consultancies, outreach programs, and the practical application of research findings.  More importantly, the Centre through the Department of Water Resources Management is offering a degree programme in Water and Sanitation, which is an important link to the dissemination and documentation of research findings.

 

As an extension of the Mzuzu University Centre of Excellence in Water and Sanitation, in 2012 the Smart Centre was opened focusing on the practical implementation of low-cost household level water and sanitation technologies.  In contrast to the typical approach by non-governmental organisations and the donor community, the Smart Centre focuses on building capacity in water and sanitation focused businesses in Malawi.  This is accomplished through promotion of appropriate technology, training of Malawians and build-up of businesses to support self-supply.  The SMART Centre provides long-term sustainability and scaling up for water and sanitation technologies by building up the capacity of local entrepreneurs.   While the Centre of Excellence in Water and Sanitation can provide the scientific requirements per design of solutions and interventions, prompting of technologies on the ground is covered by the SMART Centre.  For example, the SMART Centre is currently prompting the use of a no-cement latrine design intended to last a family 7 years, allowing scale up of self-supply capacity for improved household sanitation.

Main activities at the Smart Centre include:

  • Support activities that will improve access to safe and clean water and sanitation with a focus on peri-urban and rural areas
  • Demonstration of a range of  innovative and affordable water and sanitation technologies
  • Training of the local private sector in manual well drilling, production of rope pumps, groundwater recharge, water storage tanks, irrigation, water filters, latrines  and other technologies
  • Support local businesses with training in production, maintenance, business management skills and formation of associations
  • Courses for NGOs and others in sustainable water supply and sanitation

 

Through a combination of research being conducted at the Centre of Excellence in Water and Sanitation and practical implementation led by the SMART Centre, this team at Mzuzu University is one of the only organisations in Malawi with such an emphasis on water and sanitation self-supply, thus making ‘simple’ a bit ‘easier.’

Dr Rochelle Holm,

Mzuzu University, Centre of Excellence in Water and Sanitation and SMART Centre Manager, Mzuzu, Malawi

rochelledh@hotmail.com

 

 

Keep up to date

Submit Content

Members can keep in touch with their colleagues through short news and events articles of interest to the SEGH community.

Science in the News

Latest on-line papers from the SEGH journal: Environmental Geochemistry and Health

  • Date palm waste biochars alter a soil respiration, microbial biomass carbon, and heavy metal mobility in contaminated mined soil 2017-04-19

    Abstract

    A 30-day incubation experiment was conducted using a heavy metal-contaminated mined soil amended with date palm feedstock (FS) and its derivative biochars (BCs) at three pyrolysis temperatures of 300 (BC-300), 500 (BC-500), and 700 °C (BC-700) with different application rates (0.0, 5, 15, and 30 g kg−1) to investigate their short-term effects on soil respiration (CO2–C efflux), microbial biomass carbon (MBC), soil organic carbon (SOC), mobile fraction of heavy metals (Cd, Cu, Pb, Zn, Mn, and Fe), pH, and electrical conductivity (EC). The results showed that FS and BC-300 with increasing addition rate significantly reduced soil pH, whereas SOC, CO2–C efflux, and soil MBC were increased compared to the control. On the contrary, BC-500 and BC-700 increased soil pH at early stage of incubation and have small or no effects on SOC, CO2–C efflux, and MBC. Based on the results, the date palm biochars exhibited much lower cumulative CO2–C efflux than feedstock, even with low-temperature biochar, indicating that BCs have C sequestration potential. Applying BC-700 at 15 and 30 g kg−1 significantly reduced cumulative CO2–C efflux by 21.8 and 45.4% compared to the control, respectively. The incorporation of FS into contaminated soil significantly increased the mobile content of Cd and Mn, but decreased the mobile content of Cu. However, BC-300 significantly reduced the mobile content of Cd, Cu, Pb, and Zn. It could be concluded that low-temperature biochar could be used as a soil amendment for reducing heavy metal mobility in mining contaminated soil in addition to minimize soil CO2–C efflux.

  • Historical record of anthropogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in a lake sediment from the southern Tibetan Plateau 2017-04-17

    Abstract

    High-altitude lake sediments can be used as natural archives to reconstruct the history of pollutants. In this work, the temporal distribution of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) was determined in a sediment core collected from the southern Tibetan Plateau (TP), which was dated by using the 210Pb dating method and validated with the 137Cs fallout peak. The concentrations of the anthropogenic PAHs (Σ8PAH) in the sediment core ranged from 0.83 to 12 ng/g dw, and the fluxes of the Σ8PAH were in the range of 2.1–27 g/cm2/year. The temporal variations in the concentration and input flux of anthropogenic PAHs were low with little variability before the 1950s, and then gradually increased from the 1950s to the 1980s, and an accelerated increase was observed after the early 1980s. The content of total organic carbon played an insignificant role in affecting the time trends of PAHs in the sediment core. Diagnostic concentration fractions of PAH components indicate PAHs in the lake sediment of the southern TP which are mainly from biomass burning and/or from long-range atmospheric transport.

  • Determination of the potential implementation impact of 2016 ministry of environmental protection generic assessment criteria for potentially contaminated sites in China 2017-04-12

    Abstract

    The Ministry of Environmental Protection of China issued a 3rd draft edition of risk-based Generic Assessment Criteria (the MEP-GAC) in March 2016. Since these will be the first authoritative GAC in China, their implementation is likely to have a significant impact on China’s growing contaminated land management sector. This study aims to determine the potential implementation impact of the MEP-GAC through an in-depth analysis of the management context, land use scenarios, health criteria values adopted and exposure pathways considered. The MEP-GAC have been proposed for two broad categories of land use scenarios for contaminated land risk assessment, and these two categories of land use scenarios need to be further delved, and a MEP-GAC for Chinese cultivated land scenario ought to be developed, to ensure human health protection of Chinese farmers. The MEP-GAC have adopted 10−6 as the acceptable lifetime cancer risk, given the widespread extent and severe level of land contamination in China, consideration should be given to the decision on excess lifetime cancer risk of 10−5. During risk assessment process in practice, it is better to review the 20% TDI against local circumstances to determine their suitability before adopting it. The MEP-GAC are based on a SOM value of 1%, for regions with particularly high SOM, it might be necessary to develop regional GAC, due to SOM’s significant impact on the GAC developed. An authoritative risk assessment model developed based on HJ25.3-2014 would help facilitate the DQRA process in practice. The MEP-GAC could better reflect the likely exposures of China’s citizens due to vapour inhalation by using characteristics of Chinese exposure scenarios, including China-generic building stock, as inputs into the Johnson and Ettinger model as opposed to adoption of the US EPA parameters. The MEP-GAC once implemented will set the trajectory for the development of the investigation, assessment and remediation of land contamination for years.