Published in July 2023

In southern Malawi, the everyday challenges of the dryland climate are being increasingly added to by the occurrence of natural disasters. Speaking with the Nyanthumbi community, we learn how they are expecting their lives to improve after constructing their first sand dam, despite the challenges they face.

The community of Nyanthumbi, in Nsanje, southern Malawi, have been working with Sand Dams Worldwide (SDW) and our partner in Malawi, Churches Action in Relief and Development (CARD), with funding from Jersey Overseas Aid and other donors, including Guernsey Overseas Aid and Development Commission, since 2020. During that time, they have faced numerous delays to their project, most notably as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also from cyclones and droughts. Despite these challenges, the community have completed their first sand dam and are harvesting water from it.

Fachi Bram, the Nyanthumbi Village Development Committee Chair, and Diana Yohane, a Sand Dam Committee Member, spoke to us to explain what life was like before working with CARD and SDW, and the differences they are already seeing in their lives today.

Diana begins by describing how, "As women, we were those who would regularly fetch water. For the whole village of more than 2,000 people, we only had one borehole."

Diana Yohane - Member of Nyanthumbi Sand Dam Committee"We had to wake up very early to go and look for water, due to there being long waits as there were lots of people there. We would go there as early as 2am and then come back at 11am, but sometimes it could even be up to 12 hours waiting."

Diana Yohane, Nyanthumbi Sand Dam Committee member, southern Malawi.

She continues by telling us, "Travelling at night was definitely dangerous. In the early hours, we could meet robbers who might threaten or attack us at that time, but for the sake of water we still had to go.”

This was not the only danger. As Diana explains, "Waterborne diseases were also a problem here. Sometimes we had to use the river water, which was often dirty and could lead us to contract cholera or other diseases."

Fachi spoke of other difficulties they experienced. "Most of our farming activities were not done to the best standard because we would spend so long getting water. When we would get back, we were so tired that we could not work. This led people to experience poverty, as they did not have enough food for their household. School became difficult for kids because they would become ill from the river water, preventing them from attending." Because of these challenges, Fachi stressed how invested the community were in their sand dam project due to the long-term benefits it would have for them.

These benefits are now starting to be seen. While the sand dam is yet to fully mature, the agricultural training that CARD have been providing is having a profound impact. Fachi explains that "Before CARD came we were growing local seeds which take a long time to mature, but due to the effects of climate change we needed fast maturing crops. CARD has now supported us with fast maturing crops, which we can harvest before the droughts come or before they are washed away, so now we are able to feed our families."

Diana also described how her farm has become more productive. "I have 0.4 hectares of land; sometimes I could harvest 6 or 8 bags (each 50kg) of farm produce in the past. Now I can harvest over 22 bags, just from my small farm."

Importantly though, this is just the start for Nyanthumbi. Fachi shares that, "We have plans. We can now use the income (from selling the new crop varieties) for paying school fees, maybe starting businesses, and the rest can be used for feeding our families."

Fachi concludes by summarising his overall view of the sand dam project.

"Now these activities are finished, we have a sand dam, we have trees, and we have agriculture. It is a circle; all these aspects together will give us a good life."

Fachi Bram, Nyanthumbi Development Committee Chair, southern Malawi.

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