Nagomba E. is no longer young; her hip is giving her trouble and her back is stooped from years of bending over her corn and rice fields. Yet every morning, at the crack of dawn, the wiry 74-year-old sets out on a strenuous half-hour walk to fetch water from a nearby river so that her ailing husband can take a bath. Despite her limp, Nagomba moves fast and with the sure-footedness of a mountain goat.
It would be easier for her to fetch her water from a borehole that is closer to her house. But the water is often “bad” she says, “you cannot even use it for bathing.” Besides, she adds, “if you oversleep, you are there till noon,” waiting for a turn at the pump.
Before coal was discovered in Mwabulambo, a remote rural community of Karonga District in northern Malawi, water was never something Nagomba and her neighbours would have to worry about or even line up for.