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Environment and health
The quality of the water resources in Malawi is dependent on three major factors:
- Chemical composition of the parent rocks existing in the area;
- Extent of agricultural activities (application of agrochemicals, farming practices, land husbandry);
- Disposal of industrial waste products as well as human sewage, particularly in urban areas.
Generally both surface water and groundwater are acceptable for human consumption. However, due to recently increased agricultural activities, there has been considerable degradation of water resources as a result of increased siltation in rivers and reservoirs. This is most severe in areas that are under immense population pressure, resulting in serious deforestation and cultivation of marginal and other fragile areas. Groundwater is more mineralized in alluvial aquifers than in the weathered basement aquifers. Areas such as the lower Shire Valley, eastern Bwanje valley and around Lake Chilwa have saline waters. As such the utilization of groundwater in such areas is limited due to high contents of iron, fluoride, sulphates, nitrates and Total Dissolved Solids (TDS).
Irrigation development in Malawi has not had any very serious negative environmental impacts. Most of the areas that have been developed for irrigation have for as long as people can remember been considered waterlogged areas for most of the year. As a result the impact of irrigation development in terms of waterlogging is minimal.
Water-related vector-borne diseases such as malaria, typhoid, cholera and bilharzia have infected most people around the irrigation schemes in Malawi. In order to reduce the spread and intensification of such diseases, most of the schemes, and particularly those operated by the government, include a water supply and sanitation component to provide for potable water through sinking of boreholes, and proper sanitation facilities. In addition, health clinic facilities are provided to provide treatment for the affected population as well as health hygiene and education. However, there are quite a number of schemes, and especially self-help schemes, where such facilities are lacking.