The National Statistical Office (NSO) fourth Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (Mics) has uncovered challenges affecting children and women which experts have described as shocking.
The survey found challenges in access to clean water, early childhood development in education, maternal and child health care; hence, raising concerns about the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Malawi 2063, the country’s long development strategy.
The survey found that 60 percent of the country’s water sources are contaminated and that 93 percent of the country’s households drinking contaminated water.
Findings of the survey conducted between December 2019 and August 2020 with support from Unicef, were presented yesterday in Lilongwe.
In her remarks at the launch Minister of Health Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda admitted the situation is not good based on the outcome of the survey but vowed to work with stakeholders, including donors to improve the situation.
She said: “The outcome of the survey comes at the right time when we are formulating the 2022/2023 National Budget. The outcome will inform us how best to allocate resources to improve on areas where we are progressing and to put more effort where we are lagging.”
Chiponda admitted that it is retrogressive to have 60 percent of water sources contaminated at a time the same water is needed for preventing Covid-19 through hand washing.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests that improving access to improved water, sanitation and hygiene would save 20 000 lives per year and eliminate 25 million episodes of illness.
In his reaction, health economics specialist Gowokani Chijere-Chirwa, who teaches economics at the University of Malawi, said improvements in health frees up time for students to learn and adults to work.
“As an example, students infected with intestinal worms transmitted due to poor access to sanitation and hygiene, are 23 percent more likely to drop out of school, and earn 40 percent less,” he said.
Chijere-Chirwa emphasised that water, sanitation and hygiene is a core issue in the SDGs and that’s why they even made it a standalone goal as well as in the African agenda 2063.
“Investing in water and hygiene, means reduced waterborne diseases, which are a huge problem in this country. By reducing water related problems, we also save the cost burden on the health system and also ensure very productive labour,” he said.
Water Services Association of Malawi (Wasama) acting executive secretary Shadreck Kalitera said in a written response yesterday they have not had the opportunity to verify the statistics in the survey.
He, however, said as a governing body for the water boards and water utilities, they are assured water utilities are hard-working to ensure that their water is appropriately treated.
Kalitera said they believe any water that is distributed is chlorinated and treated both at the treatment plants and retreated, re-chlorinated at various distribution points in the cities and towns that they supply water to.
SDGs targets 6.1 and 6.2 aims for universal and equitable access to safe drinking water and sanitation by 2030.
In the education sector, the survey found that only 19 percent of children aged 7-14 years have foundational reading skills in either Chichewa or English.
This means they are able to correctly read a short story of class two and three level and answer five comprehension questions related to the story.
The survey also found that 14 percent of children attending class two thirds were able to read a short story, 11 percent were numeracy tasks.
Education expert Dr. Steve Sharra, in a written response, said the findings vindicate the revelations from the Spelling Bee contest videos that circulated on social media and shocked people a few months ago.
He said it is disturbing to learn that 81 percent of 7-14 year olds, which is the primary school age, have no foundational reading skills.
Commissioner of Statistics Mercy Kanyuka said proper policies needed to be put in place to address the findings which remain a concern.
She said having only 19 percent of children able to read and comprehend, leaving out 81 percent, was a concern for the future generation.
Germany Embassy deputy head of cooperation Knut Gummert said the data can support the implementation of the Malawi 2063 Agenda by providing data as a baseline to measure the success and short-comings of all development activities and policies.
“The data will enable the Government of Malawi and the Ministry of Health to develop targeted policies and programmes and inform the required budgeting and resource allocation,” he said.
Unicef country representative Rudolf Schwenk said they believe that consistent and credible data about the situation of children is critical for collective work to improve their lives.
He said every intervention they support has to be founded in evidence.
“It is only when we know that a certain percentage of children has no access to critical services that we can mobilise resources and partnerships to support the government,” Schwenk said.
This latest Mics is in line with SDGs indicators endorsed by the UN Statistical Commission in 2016