Inequalities in microbial contamination of drinking water supplies in urban areas: the case of Lilongwe, Malawi

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

Over past decades strategies for improving access to drinking water in cities of the Global South have mainly focused on increasing coverage, while water quality has often been overlooked. This paper focuses on drinking water quality in the centralized water supply network of Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. It shows how microbial contamination of drinking water is unequally distributed to consumers in low-income (unplanned areas) and higher-income neighbourhoods (planned areas). Microbial contamination and residual disinfectant concentration were measured in 170 water samples collected from in-house taps in high-income areas and from kiosks and water storage facilities in low-income areas between November 2014 and January 2015. Faecal contamination (Escherichia coli) was detected in 10% of the 40 samples collected from planned areas, in 59% of the 64 samples collected from kiosks in the unplanned areas and in 75% of the 32 samples of water stored at household level. Differences in water quality in planned and unplanned areas were found to be statistically significant at p < 0.05. Finally, the paper shows how the inequalities in microbial contamination of drinking water are produced by decisions both on the development of the water supply infrastructure and on how this is operated and maintained.

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