For a long time, communities around Mtiti in Malawiâ€™s central district of Dowa have had no luck when it comes to accessing potable water.
The situation forces residents of the area to travel long distances just to fetch the precious commodity.
The situation has forced women in the area, which comprises Chidziko and Khosi villages in Traditional Authority Chakhadza, to bear the brunt.
The area, perched on a gentle escarpment of red earth, about a 20-minute drive from Mponela, is an agricultural town 54 kilometres north of Lilongwe.
Nation on Sunday went to investigate the situation in the area and discovered water found in the area is indeed undrinkable. The water is sour as if one is drinking fluid from an unripe pawpaw.
If one added sugar to the water, it would taste like Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS), which has sugar in the same quantities as salt and is prescribed to people who have lost too much water due to diarrhoea.
Chidziko Village has only one well, but due to the poor taste it is not crowded despite being the sole source of water in the village.
During the visit to the area, this reporter met two women, Stella Pearson (28) and Chrissie Bamusi (26). The women have two children each and live with their husbands who grow soya for commercial purposes.
As the women sit near a fireplace preparing mandasi behind a one-bedroom house, it is not easy to see the mountains the women have to climb just to get water for families.
â€œThe water here is bad. You cannot wash your clothes with it. Soap doesnâ€™t dissolve in this water. You cannot drink this water, it is bitter. Neither can you use this water for bathing because it is not good for the skin. The only time we use it is when we are scrubbing the walls and floors.
â€œWe fetch drinking water from Kasangati. There is a well there near a stream and the water is at least fresh, but the place is far. One rises up before dawn to go there and returns home at 9 am,â€ said Pearson.
Commenting on the issue, Bamusi said the water cannot be used to prepare nsima as it comes out bitter.
â€œWhere we get our water there are tobacco nurseries and sometimes the owners send us back, saying we cannot wash our clothes there because the soap is bad for their tobacco seedlings. We have to come from the farms and then think of water. Itâ€™s stressful and takes much of our time,â€ said Bamusi.
The only time women in the village breathe a sigh of relief is during the rainy season as they can now trap the rain water and afford some rest from travelling long distances to get water.
Member of Parliament for the area, Ewart Cara Gawanani, corroborated the story, saying water in the area is simply unusable.
He said the only way people of Mtiti can be helped is by tapping water from a nearby farm and piping it to Mtiti.
According to a recent Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) report by UNICEF and World Health Organisation, 95 percent of people in urban areas and 80 percent in rural areas have access to safe water.
Catholic Development Commission of Malawi (Cadecom) national programme coordinator Martin Mazinga, whose organisation works in the area, says it was sad that people in the area were being denied their right to access potable water.
â€œWe urge government to do a study on the levels of salt in water found in the area. We want to drill boreholes, but we cannot do so before we know how salty the water is,â€ said Mazinga.
Mazinga said his organisation did a baseline study which established that many people in the area are susceptible to waterborne diseases since they rely on unsafe water sources.
â€œWe asked people what diseases they had recorded in the last year and there were cases of bilharzias, diarrhoea and cholera. At some point, there were about 15 bilharzias cases reported in one year, according to statistics from a nearby health centre,â€ he said.
Mazinga said the figure went down in one of the villages after Cadecom drilled a borehole under a programme called African-Australian Community Engagement Scheme.