Elyness Nambene and her 11-year-old grandson, Fuleya, stand outside their home in the Diocese of Karonga, Malawi.

How the 3 Pillars of Lent Can Alleviate Malawi’s Water Crisis

Malawi is considered one of the world’s least developed nations, with more than half its population living in poverty (CIA World Factbook). Without the resources to improve national infrastructure, many of Malawi’s people remain without access to basic human necessities — including clean water.

Without safe water to drink, families struggle to survive each day. Fortunately, as local Catholic leaders became aware of these hardships, they began taking action to improve the lives of needy families by addressing their most urgent problems. The Diocese of Karonga, Malawi, is an example. It is working with Cross Catholic Outreach to relieve the burden of water scarcity and to share God’s love with communities in need.

This Lent, we are calling on U.S. Catholics to take part in this meaningful mission. By simply engaging with the three pillars of Lent — prayer, fasting and almsgiving — parishes, schools, groups and individuals can alleviate Malawi’s water crisis and transform thousands of lives!

A man waters his cattle in the Diocese of Karonga, Malawi.
A man waters his cattle at a trough. Most of Malawi’s population relies on agriculture — but many do not have adequate water for themselves, much less their crops and livestock.

A Nation in Need: Water Issues in Malawi

If you conduct a quick internet search, you’ll find that many organizations describe Malawi’s water access in a positive way, suggesting that more than 80% of the country’s population has access to improved sources of drinking water. This can be somewhat misleading, because even though a family might have a covered borehole or piping system within walking distance, those sources are not always clean. Many, in fact, are old or improperly constructed and still produce contaminated water that transmits diseases. Some statistics also include rainwater collection as an improved water source — but rainwater can be intermittent and unreliable, especially in countries such as Malawi, which experiences extended dry seasons.

It is difficult to say, therefore, how many Malawians suffer from water scarcity, but estimates typically range from about 2 million (CIA World Factbook) to 4 million people. As a small, landlocked country with a rapidly expanding population, Malawi’s limited water resources suffer incredible strain. Millions of people — particularly those in remote, hard-to-reach communities — often face crushing hardships when it comes to quenching their thirst.

Agnes Mwanja collects water from the Wibogholo River in northern Malawi.
Agnes collects water from the Wibogholo River in Malawi.

A Family’s Daily Battle With Water Scarcity

Hardworking mothers like Agnes Mwanja know the hardships caused by water scarcity all too well. To fetch water for her family in northern Malawi, Agnes usually makes six trips to the Wibogholo River, a small, muddy body of water that often runs dry. During the inevitable seasons of drought, Agnes must travel even farther, trekking nearly four hours to reach the distant Upiwo River.

Like most of their neighbors, Agnes and her husband are subsistence farmers who grow just enough food for their family to survive on. In fact, about 80% of Malawi’s people live in rural areas, and most rely on farming for at least a portion of their income (CIA World Factbook). With little time or water for tending the crops, Agnes struggles to make a sustainable livelihood through agriculture.

Health concerns are also a constant threat. Waterborne diseases, including diarrhea, typhoid fever and bilharzia, are common in the area, and Agnes’ family suffers the painful consequences of drinking contaminated water. Families lose time on their farms due to sickness and water scarcity, and often, their already limited income is spent on curing diseases. Thus, the water crisis perpetuates poverty.

Catholic leaders in the Diocese of Karonga, Malawi, know that something must be done to defend families’ lives and meet their needs for safe water. They cannot take action alone — but together, we can effectively mitigate Malawi’s water crisis and deliver lasting relief.

Father Dziko, a parish priest in the Diocese of Karonga, Malawi, stands with the Mushani family where they were collecting water from the Wibogholo River.
Under the leadership of Bishop Mtumbuka, local priests such as Father Dziko (pictured, right) are reaching out to families in deepest need.

Our Strategic Partner: The Diocese of Karonga, Malawi

Established in 2010, the Diocese of Karonga is the newest diocese in Malawi. For years, it was part of the Diocese of Mzuzu, but the territory was too widespread for effective outreach. Today, the smaller diocese is focused on nourishing the faith of existing Catholics and reaching unreached families with the message of God’s love.

Many remote villages in the Diocese of Karonga are still difficult to access — but with these communities in mind, Bishop Martin Anwel Mtumbuka adopted the motto “We shall go to them.” For a long time, isolated families have felt forgotten by the world as they struggle to secure even simple necessities (such as drinking water). Bishop Mtumbuka, along with parish priests, sisters and laypeople throughout the diocese, are determined to show these families that God sees their struggles and cares about their needs.

In his effort to reach those in deepest need, Bishop Mtumbuka has traveled to all areas of the diocese, hired external consultants to make assessments, and set forth a strategy to make the diocese relevant to the needs of the people. Since 2019, Cross Catholic Outreach has been supporting this mission by improving water access in the Diocese of Karonga. Thanks to generous support from U.S. Catholics, we have already repaired 12 existing wells and installed four new wells.

Still, there remains much work to be done.

Workers fit pipes for a well in the Diocese of Karonga, Malawi.
Workers fit pipes for a well in the Diocese of Karonga. Working together as the Church, we can install deep, clean wells to bless families in need.

The Mission to Reduce Water Scarcity in Malawi

This year, Cross Catholic Outreach is again working with the Diocese of Karonga to further alleviate Malawi’s water crisis. Our goal is to install six deep wells that will serve 2,947 people living in seven communities. These hand-pump wells will effectively end the water challenges of people like Agnes. Working together, we can quench their thirst, restore their time, and eliminate many of the illnesses that have plagued them for so long.

In addition to providing clean water, this outreach will also empower local families by providing vital training. One of the reasons we value our partnership with the Diocese of Karonga so highly is because of their intentional focus on empowerment workshops that provide critical knowledge, teach valuable skills and help families increase their self-sufficiency.

Once the wells are successfully installed, each community will participate in a two-day water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) workshop. These sessions will equip beneficiaries with the knowledge they need to protect their health, prevent water contamination, and keep their wells in working order for years to come.

Beyond these communitywide workshops, three groups of people will receive training that is more specialized. These groups include:

  • • Water Point Committees: A committee consisting of 10 community members and one local leader will be appointed in each village to encourage proper use of the well and promote good hygiene.
  • • Area Pump Menders: Local mechanics will be trained to perform any well maintenance.
  • • Sanitation Entrepreneurs: Local entrepreneurs will be trained to construct quality latrines, restoring dignity to families and defending the water supply against contaminants.

Water and workshops are a powerful combination that can transform entire communities! The Diocese of Karonga is eager and ready to launch this effective outreach — but before they can take action, they urgently need financial backing from U.S. Catholics who share their heart of compassion.

A little girl draws water from a shallow ground hole at the Wibogholo River in Malawi.
A little girl draws water from a shallow ground hole in the Diocese of Karonga.

How Your Lenten Devotion Can Mitigate Malawi’s Water Crisis

This Lenten season, Cross Catholic Outreach is calling on parishes, schools, groups and individuals to meet the need for clean water in Malawi (as well as in Ghana and Zambia). U.S. Catholics can transform lives with clean water by simply engaging with the three pillars of Lent.

  • • Prayer: Prayer leads our hearts closer to Christ. As you pray through the 40 days of Lent, specifically lift up families in Malawi who need clean water to drink.
  • • Fasting: When we give up something, it puts us in a better position to give to those in need. As you fast from food, coffee or other delights during this holy season, use any extra time to pray for families without water, and donate any dollars saved to bless the poor.
  • • Almsgiving: Jesus shared his mercy generously with us, so we make a special effort to share that gift of mercy with those who are suffering. Consider devoting your Lenten almsgiving to fill cups with clean water this year.

Wherever suffering exists, there is also an opportunity to show grace. Join us in the mission to pray, fast and give in a way that will relieve Malawi’s water crisis and bless many lives with Wells of Salvation.

Donations from this campaign will be used to cover any expenditures incurred through June 30, 2024, the close of our ministry’s fiscal year. In the event that more funds are raised than needed to fully fund the project, the excess funds, if any, will be used to meet the most urgent needs of the ministry.