Registered: July 2007
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ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION IN MALAWI
Malawi is a poor country, which largely depends on agriculture for its economy. Unfortunately, little attention has been paid to the degradation of environment especially pollution of air, careless cutting of trees, loss of nutrients from the soil and contamination of water sources in most parts of the country.
Resource poor farmers who can no longer afford to buy commercial fertilizers are finding it difficult to get bumper yields despite working very hard in the field. This is because nutrients from the soil have been depleted through soil erosion, leaching or uptake by plants. Used up nutrients are not being replenished at the rate they are being taken away from the soil. Contamination of water sources is a continuous problem in Malawi.
The major cause of depletion of nutrients from the soil is the failure of poor farmers to practice good farming methods that will conserve soil and water. Nutrients are not replenished in the soil when taken up by the plants or through soil erosion and leaching. This has resulted into continuous dependency on commercial fertilisers, which are usually available to few farmers due to exorbitant prices for purchasing such inorganic fertilisers. Consequently, there is food shortage in the country every year because soils lack nutrients for growing crops.
Water sources have continuously been contaminated since many people especially in rural areas have no access to sanitation facilities such as latrines. Even those that have, it is deep pit latrines for 'drop and store' type of sanitation. This does not help in recycling of nutrients but often leads to contamination of ground water, rivers, streams and lakes, which many people depend upon for their domestic chores in Malawi. Lack of latrines amongst villagers means the bush is used for faecal disposal. This has resulted in pollution of rivers and other unprotected sources of water, people dying of cholera and other diarrhoeal diseases. Problem of smell of faeces and urine is common in many parts of the country.
Ecological sanitation, which is environmental friendly, could assist to address these problems if massively promoted amongst the people in Malawi. Ecological sanitation is defined as a system that makes use of human waste and turns it into something useful and valuable with a minimum of risk of pollution of the environment and with no threat to human health. Eco sanitation recognises that urine and faeces are resources that, if properly managed, can contribute to food production and development. Soil, ash and faeces when mixed together rapidly breaks down to produce rich compost that would be an asset to any farm or garden. The mixture is odourless as long as it is not too wet and the resulting compost is easy to handle and use.
Eco sanitation latrines assist in storing and preparing human waste for use in agriculture by encouraging the formation of humus by the addition of wood ash and soil. This could help prevent soil erosion since humus has good water holding capacity. These latrines also help to remove faeces and urine from the immediate environment and thus contribute to better health. It therefore protects the environment from contamination by untreated excrement. These eco san latrines do not use water hence helping to preserve water and do not contaminate ground water as opposed to conventional latrines. Shallow pit latrines called arborloos if promoted could assist in a forestation. Natural trees being carelessly cut down for firewood and planks could get extinct if the situation is left unchecked. There is need to plant more trees using excrement in shallow pit latrine. This would enable planting of many trees that would grow faster to be used for domestic purposes. This will in the long run help to conserve natural trees. Soil would also be conserved since rainwater drops will be prevented from directly hitting the soil that often results into soil erosion. An arborloo is the simplest type of latrine. In fact anybody who has planted a tree in a full pit latrine is practising eco-sanitation. A shallow pit some one metre deep [0.75m recommended] is dug and a slab and easily movable superstructure placed on top of it. The family uses the latrine, adding the mixture of soil and ash after each use, until it is three quarters full [usually between four to nine months]. A layer of soil is added to the full pit and a sapling placed into the soil. The tree grows and utilises the compost to produce large, succulent fruit. After a few years the result is an orchard producing fruit with a real economic value.
Ecological sanitation encourages a holistic approach to environmental management. Promotion of eco sanitation would ensure sustainable development.