Malawi SDI Alliance Response to Covid-19

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On behalf of the the Malawi Federation of the Urban & Rural Poor and The Centre for Community Organization & Development (CCODE)SDI presents the work to fight COVID-19 in Malawi. 


On Thursday, April 2, President of the republic of Malawi confirmed the country’s first three cases of COVID-19. On the same day, the president declared a state of emergency. In view of this directive, schools and universities have been closed since Monday, March 23. Authorities have also banned public gatherings of more than 100 people, which applies to weddings, funerals, religious congregations, rallies, and government meetings. Security forces have been deployed to enforce the restrictions.

In Malawi, 75% of the urban population live in informal settlements (NSO 2018). Conditions in informal settlements are grossly inadequate at the best of times. Many residents live without access to on-site water or sanitation, people live in over-crowded housing, and are facing the constant threat of forced eviction. Hand-washing, disinfecting surfaces, physical distancing and quarantine for those infected – essential elements of COVID19 prevention – are often impossible for residents of these communities. In addition, residents of informal settlements often do not have access to accurate information and, in cases where such information is provided, the information is provided using male-dominated channels.

Furthermore, the measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have disrupted livelihood activities for many of these communities. As normal economic activity comes to a halt, the vulnerability of low-paid and daily wage workers in the country has intensified to the point that many are struggling to survive. People most at risk of being impoverished by Covid-19 are those who fall between the cracks of most social protection systems: the people living in informal settlements and working in the informal economy.

It is against this background that the Malawi SDI Alliance has been supporting informal settlements in the cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu. The communities are being supported with daily access to information as provided by the government and entrepreneurship skills in the COVID-19 crisis, as many businesses are folding. The communities are also being provided with COVID-19 prevention equipment such as face masks, hand washing buckets, and hand sanitisers.

Below is an update of the progress that has been made in supporting informal settlements with information on COVID-19.

  • All 35 federation groups in Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu now have hand washing equipment. Cities were prioritised because that’s where the first cases were reported . Federation savings groups continue to meet and conduct their savings, loans and group entrepreneurial activities in compliance with government regulation. Plans are underway for the federation’s tailoring groups to produce masks to be sold at a reduced price to federation members and to scale up these efforts throughout Malawi.
  • The Malawi Alliance worked with the Lilongwe District Health Office to spread Covid-19 awareness messages to ten informal settlements in Lilongwe City (population roughly 30,000) using a public address system that can effectively reach large numbers of people. The Alliance hopes to enter into partnership with District Health Offices (DHO) in other cities to carry out similar work in those areas.
  • Community leaders from 24 informal settlements in Lilongwe City were capacitated with knowledge and skills on how to disseminate COVID-19   messages to their communities. These capacity building sessions were specifically targeting informal settlements where DHO officers were being chased away. These communities do not believe that COVID-19 is real or that there are confirmed cases in Malawi. Many continue to hang on to unfounded conspiracy theories about the disease, putting themselves and their communities at high risk of contracting and spreading the virus. So far, a total of 480 community leaders from 24 informal settlements in Lilongwe city have participated in these sessions. The Alliance aims to scale up efforts by conducting similar sessions in cities and towns across Malawi.
  • Media efforts carried out by the Malawi Know Your City TV team to raise awareness with youth, including: production of six short videos depicting how the COVID-19 pandemic  has affected the informal trader, the girl child, and other vulnerable groups in informal settlements; posters on COVID-19 messages produced and shared in various platforms; and dissemination of awareness messages across various social media channels. Federation youth groups  are also engaging  their fellow youth gathering and other community platforms to disseminate these knowledge materials. The alliance has also collaborated  with  a famous Musician among the youth population to produce a song on COVID-19 prevention. The Lilongwe District Health Office has agreed to train Federation youth on Theatre for Behaviour change and Development, and will provide support on the production of a music video on COVID-19.
  • The Malawi Alliance  has partnered with The Mzuzu City Council to support federation leadership in the Northen region with COVID-19 prevention measures.  These leaders have been tasked with the role of spreading the COVID-19 messages within their communities.

The Malawi SDI Alliance plans to continue efforts to raise awareness around the COVID-19 pandemic and provide support for the communities they serve. They are actively seeking additional support from donor partners and working with government to reach as many people as they can in Malawi’s informal settlements.


Please keep following SDI as we highlight the initiatives of SDI affiliates across Africa, Asia & Latin America in the fight against COVID-19 to support the most vulnerable throughout this pandemic.

Building EcoSan toilets in Blantyre, Malawi


By Mariana Gallo and the Malawi Homeless People’s Federation


The sanitation challenges that Blantyre currently faces are complex with limited affordable options for informal residents to choose from. No sewerage treatment or disposal services, poor access to water, and a lack of space all characterise the cities’ slums.

The Centre for Community Organisation and Development (CCODE) and the Malawian Federation have been supporting informal communities to access Ecological Sanitation (dry composting) toilets since 2005 with approximately 800 toilets serving 14,400 people having been built to date. EcoSan toilets started out as part of the housing process pursued by Federation savings groups but, over time, their provision has become a stand-alone investment in settlement upgrading.  Once the first “precedent” toilets were constructed, the benefits were realised by many and demand among the Federation grew. Currently, sanitation is a key aspect of the Blantyre Alliance’s settlement upgrading efforts. Community-led data collection shows the gaps that exist between the number of residents and the number of toilets in a settlement. Profiles indicate that in many of Blantyre’s slum settlements toilets are shared by up to 10 families (approximately 60 people), stressing the urgency for affordable and practical solutions.


The demand for EcoSan sanitation has grown over the years due to a number of advantages in comparison to more traditional approaches to sanitation (e.g. simple or improved pit latrines):

  • The capacity to save space/land: Unlike pit latrines, there is no need to build a new toilet once the EcoSan is full, as it can be easily emptied by the user. The challenges of emptying traditional pit latrines (high costs and unavailability of the service) mean that many people have no choice but to cover the latrine when full and dig a new one. This has both negative environmental consequences (e.g. groundwater infiltration) and spatial consequences.
  • Saving money: The humanure harvested from the toilets can be used as fertilizer for garden and crops. This saves money for the household, who no longer need to incur the cost of buying fertilizer. On average, the cost of buying fertilizer is around 17.000 Malawian Kwacha (29 USD) for one 50kg bag. Most people would use four bags in one farming season (one year), for one acre of land.
  • Generating income: In some cases EcoSan users have been able to sell the harvested humanure to local farmers or companies and generate additional income for the family. The following figures are tentative but a 50kg bag of humanure can be sold for up to 2500 Mk (4 USD). In six months, a household produces a minimum of 300 kg (six bags) of humanure. If all sold, this could provide an income of up to 48 USD in one year. Blantyre EcoSan users have, in the past, sold humanure to the City Council for landscaping initiatives across the city, for example. There is a demand of the product from private buyers and companies that currently remains unmet due to low production and gaps in the market chain. Unfortunately, not all EcoSan toilet users are able to take advantage of this – the estimates show that currently only 20% of EcoSan users using or selling the humanure, a figure that varies on the area and according to the availability of agriculture land or available markets. Further research on the use of humanure is required, as well as further dissemination of information regarding the advantages of this resource. The context is also playing a key role: currently, the national government is cutting subsidies, making it more difficult for the poor to access subsidised fertilizer, which has meant an ongoing increase in households using or selling
  • Status symbol and prestige: The smart design of the EcoSan toilet is a source of pride for owners and this status symbol encourages others to invest in the technology. In addition, the toilets are odourless, creating a more pleasant home environment – a further source of pride.
  • Durability and safety: EcoSan toilets have proven to be able to withstand disasters as demonstrated during the heavy rains and floods that hit Blantyre in January 2015. Many pit latrines collapsed or were filled with water, however only a single EcoSan toilet was reported to have suffered damage. This incident has further improved the reputation and increased the demand for EcoSan sanitation in the affected areas.
  • Water efficient: EcoSan toilets only require a small amount of water for use and maintenance and are therefore sought after in areas with poor water supply (which is the case in most of Blantyre). Many informal residents use water from shallow wells and boreholes and since EcoSan, unlike traditional latrines, cause hardly any groundwater infiltration or pollution they are considered to be safer, more environmentally-friendly options.


Including all community members

At first, toilet loans and technical support were only offered to Federation members – accessed and managed through savings schemes. After a number of years, and subsequent to internal discussions, EcoSan sanitation loans were made available to non-Federation members. This change was motivated by an increased interest in the technology by the wider community and recognition that scaling up must imply working beyond the Federation as the whole community, and not just Federation members, face sanitation challenges. An example of one such challenge was the cholera outbreak of January 2015 that affected entire communities. The toilets built to date have been spread across low-income areas in Blantyre with greater uptake in areas with rocky ground where traditional latrines have been difficult and expensive to build. Using data from enumeration reports, the density of EcoSan provision ranges from between 2 in 10 households in some areas to 6 in 10 households in others.

The process of including non-Federation members required a focus on the mobilisation of entire communities. In Blantyre, EcoSan toilet provision has taken a central place in slum upgrading strategies. The slum upgrading work is undertaken in close collaboration with traditional leaders, who play an important role in vouching for individuals to receive sanitation loans, managing various meetings and overseeing any issues that arise around repayment.  Drawing traditional leaders into the process has proved effective especially when working with non-Federation members and loan repayments rates have improved.  Repayment rates have varied between 45% and 87% over time and are often affected by variables such as whether it is a lean period or harvest time. As noted, institutional shifts in the methods deployed by the Federation have also affected repayments (e.g. a 5% commission for loan collectors has recently been introduced. But before this can be implemented more widely, more questions on costs need to be answered). The highest effectiveness was demonstrated when Federation teams worked closely with technical projects teams. However, over time this approach has not been sustained and repayments have dropped.



The current cost of a complete EcoSan toilet (toilet and bathroom) is 150,000 MK (around 272 USD). Families are required to make an initial payment of 10% (15.000MK) and the rest over one year period (with interest). These costs can be unaffordable for many of the poorest residents of informal settlements in Blantyre. In addition, the burden has been on landlords to invest in the toilet, with tenants having to push for the service. In the cases when landlords have invested, in general, rents have not increased as in Malawi it is the landlord’s responsibility to provide a toilet for tenants – a cost incurred whether the investment is EcoSan or a traditional pit latrine.

Some advantages in terms of costs of the EcoSan toilets are:

  • A traditional latrine costs about half the price of an EcoSan toilet (75,000 MK or 136 US$) but it needs to be rebuilt after 2-3 years, while an EcoSan toilet can last for as long as 20 years. Thus cumulatively the EcoSan is a cheaper long-term investment.
  • As noted earlier in the blog, income can be generated through the sale of humanure.

Understanding that despite the above benefits long-term investments can be prohibitive for the poor, several measures have been put in place to make the toilets affordable. These include:

  • A reduction in the initial capital down payment for the toilet
  • Encouraging people to source local materials (such as sand and brick) and provide part of the labour required. This can, at most, halve the initial cost of the toilet.
  • Encouraging beneficiaries to start planning ahead of construction, sourcing materials little by little, and saving before construction commences.
  • The loan system, which comprises a 10% down payment and the rest paid over a year (with 4% monthly interest on the declining balance) helps people afford a sum that they could not otherwise afford. However, it is felt that this is still too high and alternatives models are being explored.
  • In order to afford repayments and cut interests costs, several families may take on a loan for a single toilet. Once the toilet is built and loan paid off (normally in 6 months as 3 families are now paying for a single loan) a second family can take a loan and build a toilet with the process repeating itself.

Whilst a lot has been achieved so far, the scale of the problem in Blantyre is huge and further efforts are needed to address improved sanitation for the poor. The construction of household EcoSan toilets is an ongoing process, with a revolving fund financing mechanism that covers the loans provided throughout time, and a demand that continues to grow. Six EcoSan public toilets have been constructed in market places in informal settlements, which look to release the pressure of the lack of sanitation facilities in those areas, and serve about 1,500 people that work and visit each market daily. These toilets are community-managed through a local committee and the small fee paid by customers (of 30mk or 0.05 USD, representing 3.6% of monthly income of someone on minimal wage) aims to ensure their maintenance and sustainability over time. Furthermore, a city-wide sanitation committee has been set up to oversee the functioning of all the public toilets and all local committees (to ensure appropriate management of the facilities). Furthermore, the city-wide committee is expected to engage in other initiatives related to city-wide sanitation in the near future. CCODE, the Federation, the City Council and traditional leaders are represented in the committee, ensuring close partnerships for better sanitation in the city.

Some of the issues delaying the progress in the provision of adequate sanitation are the lack of trained builders in this technology, which depends on the demand – which can be high with as many as 20 toilets on the waiting list. Constructing a toilet takes 1 week, and sometimes families have to wait up to 2 weeks to have their toilet built. Training is on-going to ensure there is a workforce available to address the existing demand. Funds required to finance the toilets as well as to fund further trainings and supervision could also boots the efforts and multiply impact, and these have been secured in the past through organisations such as the African Development Bank (ADB).

The provision of EcoSan is implemented as a joint venture with Blantyre City Council (BCC), deepening the relationship between the BCC and CCODE/Federation. The City Council provided support in terms of programme design, and in some cases it also provided land for public toilets. This has helped scaling up of the efforts in the southern region of the country, and set precedents that are now being implemented in other regions, as an essential component of a number of donor-funded projects. Furthermore, EcoSan toilets have been included in the national sanitation catalogue as an improved sanitation technology, an achievement that will enhance its replication.

Launch of Public Toilets in Blantyre, Malawi: Building a Citywide Sanitation Strategy

Written by CCODE

On Friday 22nd May, 2015, the normally busy market in Ndirande was even busier than usual. This time, there was a reason to celebrate: local authorities, Councillors from different areas, Traditional Authorities, community leaders and community members came together to officially launch the five new public toilets that have been recently constructed in market places in different informal settlements across Blantyre.

The toilets have been built by the Malawi Alliance as part of the Sanitation and Hygiene Applied Research for Equity (SHARE) project, which aims to test an approach to pro-poor citywide sanitation strategies driven by communities and supported by public authorities. One of the challenges that communities identified during the community-driven research stage of the project was the problem of public sanitation in the informal settlements. It is against this background that CCODE and the Federation has facilitated the construction of five public paying toilets at market places in the settlements of Ndirande (2), Manase, Nancholi, and Likotima.

The public toilets have two main features that make them unique:

1) They have been constructed with the EcoSan technology – which means they require little water for their maintenance (something that is scarce, especially in high density areas like Ndirande) and the waste can be harvested as humanure – a safe, nutrient-rich compost manure that can be utilised as fertilizer to improve crops.

2) They will be paid toilets – ensuring their sustainability in the long term. People will pay a small fee for using the toilets, which will ensure their maintenance and cleanliness. A percentage of the profits obtained from the toilets will go towards the repayment of the facilities, and the majority will remain in the community for community-led projects. Local and City-Wide Sanitation committees have been created to oversee the management of the system, which include members of the City Council, Traditional Authorities, community leaders and Federation members.

The new toilets will benefit the communities in many way: not only they provide a safe sanitation option for crowded areas (and comfort for those who reside of visit the areas), but also will give a sense of pride and a small profit to be put into the most pressing needs of the community. Furthermore, the involvement and commitment of the City Council in a community-led process of improving the living conditions of slums sets an important precedent for the future.

Citywide Sanitation Projects in Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe & Tanzania Report on Successes of First Year

*Cross-posted from SHARE Research website*

SHARE partners Shack/Slum Dwellers (SDI), together with their affiliates and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), have just published four policy briefs documenting the first year of the SHARE-funded City-Wide Sanitation Project.

The purpose of this research project is to develop inclusive, sustainable sanitation strategies. In practice this involves creating a scalable, bottom-up model for the development and realisation of pro-poor citywide sanitation, in which the residents of informal settlements engage with their local authority to identify new ways forward. The four cities where this model is being developed are Blantyre (Malawi)Dar es Salaam (Tanzania)Kitwe (Zambia), and Chinhoyi (Zimbabwe)

The first year was focused on data collection, including community mapping and profiling. Here are some of the findings: 

• The study in the City of Blantyre found that 9 in 10 residents of information settlements use unimproved latrines, and that the majority of residents have experienced a collapse in these latrines during the rainy season. Most cannot afford the sanitary draining of latrines, opting instead to dig new pits every two years. 

• In the City of Dar es Salaam, the study concluded that the sewerage system only reaches 10% of the urban population, while less than 10% of public funding for sanitation is directed towards onsite sanitation services, which the majority of the population relies on.

• In the City of Kitwe, the study found that over three quarters of households in informal settlements use traditional pit latrines, due in particular to the high cost of installing sanitation facilities. 

• In the City of Chinhoyi, 70% of people in the profiled settlements rely on improvised water sources such as shallow wells and other unhygienic sources, which greatly affects their sanitation options. 82% of dwellings do not have regular rubbish collection. 

In all three cities, the vital importance of the relationship between tenants and landlords was highlighted. Tenants make up the majority of households in informal settlements, and are therefore unlikely to invest in improved water and sanitation facilities. On the other hand, the incentives for landlords to make this important investment are not always eviden

The community-led approach to understanding the water and sanitation situation in these four cities has not only made residents and Federation leaders better informed, but it has also already greatly improved the relationship of these residents and Federation leaders with the City Councils. In Blantyre, for example, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed between the City Council, SDI partner CCODE and the Federation committing them to work together in the housing, water and sanitation sectors. The council has also set up the Informal Settlement Unit to work directly with the informal settlements in the city, demonstrating its commitment to scaling up action to address needs in these areas. In Kitwe, the City Council has agreed to establish a multi-stakeholder sub-committee on the upgrading on informal settlements, which will include SDI affiliate members along councillors and utility providers. In Chinhoyi, following an MoU in 2012, the communities of two of the profiled informal settlements – Mupata and Shackleton – have now begun to explore strategies for moving forward on the issues of sanitation in collaboration with the city authorities. 

The project is now in its second year, where, building on firm knowledge of the situation in each locality and the stronger collaboration that the first year has enabled, precedents will be developed to exemplify new and effective sanitation solutions. The third and final year will be dedicated to planning to expand provision to those in the city without adequate sanitation. It is anticipated that this final year will develop a city-wide strategy for inclusive sanitation and include agreements with local government that can help provide the foundations for such a strategy.

Read the full Policy Briefing for Blantyre, Malawi

Read the full Policy Briefing for Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Read the full Policy Briefing for Kitwe, Zambia

Read the full Policy Briefing for Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe