SEGH Articles

In Malawi "simple is not easy"

01 March 2013
Effectiveness of sanitation, hygiene practices, and water supply interventions serving Malawi and the surrounding countries.

Dr Rochelle Holm's home is Mzuzu in Malawi, but she is originally from Washington State in the USA.  Rochelle served as a volunteer for 10 years leading African natural resource management and water quality projects before accepting the current permanent position at Mzuzu University. For 8 years Rochelle managed $1M/year soil and groundwater clean-up projects for the United States Department of Energy and Department of Defense.  Rochelle also served as a Natural Resource Management Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali, West Africa, 2002-2003.  Through Rochelle's volunteer experiences,  relationships were developed, and combined with her professional project management experience, led her to have a passion for the water and sanitation sector throughout Africa, a great fit for Rochelle's current role.


In Malawi, “simple is not easy”

Environmental Science is not always simple, though in the northern region of Malawi, Africa, there is a saying “simple is not easy.”   Malawi is a developing country located in southeastern Africa.  In 2009, the Mzuzu University Centre of Excellence in Water and Sanitation was established under the Department of Water Resources Management and Development within the Faculty of Environmental Sciences.  The primary objective of the Centre is to improve the effectiveness of sanitation, hygiene practices, and water supply interventions serving Malawi and the surrounding countries.  The Centre participates in applied research, water quality analysis, training, consultancies, outreach programs, and the practical application of research findings.  More importantly, the Centre through the Department of Water Resources Management is offering a degree programme in Water and Sanitation, which is an important link to the dissemination and documentation of research findings.


As an extension of the Mzuzu University Centre of Excellence in Water and Sanitation, in 2012 the Smart Centre was opened focusing on the practical implementation of low-cost household level water and sanitation technologies.  In contrast to the typical approach by non-governmental organisations and the donor community, the Smart Centre focuses on building capacity in water and sanitation focused businesses in Malawi.  This is accomplished through promotion of appropriate technology, training of Malawians and build-up of businesses to support self-supply.  The SMART Centre provides long-term sustainability and scaling up for water and sanitation technologies by building up the capacity of local entrepreneurs.   While the Centre of Excellence in Water and Sanitation can provide the scientific requirements per design of solutions and interventions, prompting of technologies on the ground is covered by the SMART Centre.  For example, the SMART Centre is currently prompting the use of a no-cement latrine design intended to last a family 7 years, allowing scale up of self-supply capacity for improved household sanitation.

Main activities at the Smart Centre include:

  • Support activities that will improve access to safe and clean water and sanitation with a focus on peri-urban and rural areas
  • Demonstration of a range of  innovative and affordable water and sanitation technologies
  • Training of the local private sector in manual well drilling, production of rope pumps, groundwater recharge, water storage tanks, irrigation, water filters, latrines  and other technologies
  • Support local businesses with training in production, maintenance, business management skills and formation of associations
  • Courses for NGOs and others in sustainable water supply and sanitation


Through a combination of research being conducted at the Centre of Excellence in Water and Sanitation and practical implementation led by the SMART Centre, this team at Mzuzu University is one of the only organisations in Malawi with such an emphasis on water and sanitation self-supply, thus making ‘simple’ a bit ‘easier.’

Dr Rochelle Holm,

Mzuzu University, Centre of Excellence in Water and Sanitation and SMART Centre Manager, Mzuzu, Malawi



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