By William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

In my last post, I spoke about indicators for deforestation in Malawi. Today, I'll share one for the problem of attaining clean drinking water, then explain a cool invention I'm working on to address this issue.

Until recently, my mother spent over 700 hours every year just bringing our family clean water from the well. That's over two hours each day walking to the public water pump and hauling those buckets back home, sometimes even longer.

The work was hard and exhausting, but much better compared to our situation before. Until I was nine years old, we got all of our drinking water from the spring-fed marsh behind our house, something we called the dambo. The dambo was the only source of water for miles around, so everyone depended on it to live – including the goats and cows, who often relieved themselves while drinking. The women had to dip their buckets into the dirty water anyway, trying not to think about it. What choice did they have?

Because it was our only water source, the demand was very high. Women like my mother would wake up before the cock even crowed – around four am – hoping to reach the dambo before the line stretched into the tall elephant grass. If you were late, you'd find yourself waiting for two hours as the African sun cooked you from above.

In the dry season, the dambo was only full of water in the morning, and by afternoon, all the women and pigs and goats had drank it dry. If you were running late because your child was sick, or your husband needed you in the maize fields, you'd have to go without until the spring replenished itself overnight. In the wet season the dambo was always full, but dangerous. The heavy rains often flooded the latrines and washed waste and other garbage into into our water. My mother boiled our drinking water, but not everyone did this and became sick. Diarrhea was a frequent visitor to the villages during the rainy season, and cholera was always a concern.

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