Malawi works to ensure safe water at home

The Ministry of Health of Malawi hosted a meeting yesterday morning to seek input on a “zero draft” of its national action plan on home-based water treatment and safe storage. In Malawi about 20% of the population obtains their drinking water from unsafe sources: lakes, rivers, or unprotected wells or natural springs. The microscopic creatures living in the water can lead to diarrhoeal diseases such as cholera, dysentery and typhoid which kill more than 1.5 million people worldwide every year, most of these children, and Malawi is no exception to this global trend. Treating the water at home through filtration, chlorine or other means and storing it safely in a proper container afterwards can improve the quality of the water and reduce the chances of getting sick with diarrhoea by up to 47%.

In addition to household treatment of drinking water, there are two other key practices that can reduce the burden of diarrhoeal disease: hand-washing with soap and the safe disposal of human faeces. The Government of Malawi has developed national approaches on both: the National Handwashing Campaign and the Open Defecation Free Strategy, leaving household water treatment as a key gap to be addressed and providing the impetus for the current initiative.

Efforts to develop a national action plan began earlier this year at a workshop hosted by the World Health Organization and UNICEF in Mozambique. Following the workshop I was invited to Malawi by the government to provide technical assistance to their work in this area. At the moment, the technical assistance consists chiefly of a review of the status of household water treatment in Malawi, specifically the policy environment, key stakeholders, current practices and products available in the market. The next step is to provide some input into the drafting of the action plan and help the Ministry implement it in months to come. This work has been generously funded by Aqua for All, a Dutch NGO, with input and support from 300in6, a safe water advocacy group.

The Malawi Ministry of Health seeking input on its draft national action plan on household water treatment


Two examples of African ingenuity

The first is this makeshift sprinkler being used on the lawn of a hotel in Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi. I have seen this elsewhere in the city but never anywhere else on the continent or the world for that matter. A great idea! Have you seen it? :)

Watering the grass in Lilongwe, Malawi

The second is this electricity-free refrigerator invented by a Nigerian fellow who turned it into a successful business and apparently now sells 30,000 of them a year for a little more than 1 USD a piece. As described on GIZMODO.COM: “Conventional refrigeration does an incredible job keeping food fresh. But that technology hasn’t helped desert dwellers without steady electricity. A more recent development in refrigeration—the Zeer pot-in-pot refrigerator—only requires water, sand, and a hot, dry climate to preserve produce through evaporative cooling. Here’s how to make the simple gadget.” Follow the link to learn how to make your own.

The Zeer pot-in-pot cooler
(Image source: AIDG / flickr:

Police FAIL in Lilongwe

If you’re from North America, you’ve probably grown up learning how to call 911. Your parents drill it into you from an early age, it is reinforced in schools, and it’s a toll-free call from every phone. Cellphones even have an emergency call setting which you can use when you are out of the network coverage area.

But what do you do in a foreign country where you aren’t familiar with the local numbers to reach emergency services? What if you are faced with a medical emergency or a life-threatening situation? On Saturday night something similar happened to me, when from the window of a taxi I witnessed a man physically assault a woman in a well-to-do neighbourhood of Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi.

Known as “Area 3”, it is a borough of the city which includes the popular “Old Town”, large tree-lined streets, wealthy homes and backpacker hostels. Many visitors to the city choose to stay here as it’s easy to get around on foot and see an “urban” part of Lilongwe if there is one. I consider it to be fairly safe and although I wouldn’t recommend walking around alone at night, it’s certainly a lot safer than other parts of the city.

Now, back to my story. Certain circumstances suggested that this woman was in serious trouble. My taxi driver and I tried to intervene and were threatened by the man, who put his hand under his shirt as if to suggest that he might pull out a weapon. The woman, who had obviously been in distress, came between us and asked me to leave, saying she was okay and they were “just” fighting. I could smell the alcohol on her breath. The man paced back and forth, hurling insults and taunts at me, as if daring me to provoke him to do something. From the look on his face I could see he wasn’t afraid and I had no idea what he might be hiding under that shirt. I stood there, facing off against him for what seemed like an eternity, considering how to handle the situation. Again, the woman spoke calmly, calling the man by name and telling him to back off and asking me to please leave. I felt my taxi driver place his hand on my wrist and pull me gently back into the car. Finally, I did back down and we got into the car. As we drove away, a second man appeared from the shadows and joined the couple who had started yelling at each other again.

Now, my backup plan was to call the Malawi Police. And this is where things became a different kind of scary. When I asked my taxi driver how to reach the police, he didn’t know the number. When I arrived at my hotel, the manager suggested that even if we reached the police, they likely wouldn’t be able to do anything since they often don’t have a car to travel to the scene of a crime. But I felt obliged to report it and besides, civic duty right?

Phone numbers for Lilongwe police in the MTL telephone directory

So, using the hotel’s telephone, we twice tried calling the Malawi toll-free emergency services number “997” and got no answer. Totally dumbfounded, I asked the hotel manager if he had any suggestions. He produced a copy of the local telephone directory and we flipped through to the government services section. There was a list of land line telephone numbers for the police in Lilongwe (see inset). He suggested that we call the mobile patrol office. Twice more we tried and still there was no answer. Faced with a set of circumstances that suggested no possible positive outcome, I reluctantly gave up.

Two things struck me from this experience:

  • Newcomers or tourists to Lilongwe might not know how to call for help if they need it.
  • If they do call emergency services, they may not be able to reach them, and they should have a backup plan.

The experience of trying to unsuccessfully reach emergency services is what has prodded me to write this blog post. Until this past weekend, I can’t recall ever needing immediate, emergency police assistance during my travels. Call it dumb luck. But if you’re living overseas or have a friend who does, let this be a reminder of how important these numbers are, knowing who to call and what to do if you need help. Print out the numbers for the city and country you live in and carry them with you in your wallet, your backpack and the glove compartment of your car. And have a backup plan!

Postscript: On Monday August 27 two police officers happened to visit my hotel and I had a chance to inform them of the story. They took my number and said they would check their logs to see if any incidents had been reported that corresponded to my experience. Also I discovered this website, which allows Malawi residents to submit anonymous information on crimes. Perhaps a resource to keep in mind if you find yourself the witness of a crime and no one to report it to. Finally, I learned from Wikipedia that from many countries dialing 911 will connect you to the local emergency services – this seems to work from Malawi!

Malaria in Malawi

Last night I went to a dinner party, looking forward to good food and time with friends, and while there began to feel ill – headache, extreme fatigue, fever and unsteadiness on my feet. Lucky me though – among my friends there were three doctors and two medical students so I was in good hands.

My symptoms led the doctors to suspect I might have malaria. This, despite the fact that I have been taking Malarone, an anti-malarial medication also known generically as atovaquone and proguanil hydrochloride, since I arrived in Africa on June 11. One of the doctors said that the malarial parasite species common in Malawi (Plasmodium falciparum) has developed resistance to Malarone, although I could not find evidence for this when looking around online this morning. At that doctor’s recommendation I began a course of mefloquine hydrochloride (which many may know as Lariam): three doses of 500mg every 12 hours for 36 hours. Mefloquine is often taken as a prophylaxis to prevent malaria – in higher doses it can treat it too. A rare but feared side effect of mefloquine is psychosis!

The doctor suggested that if I felt worse in the morning that I go to the hospital to get a blood screening test for malaria. I am feeling much better now but still not 100% so will wait another 24 hours to see how it goes. As one of the doctors said (while laughing!): “Now you’ve been introduced to malaria”. I guess I could consider this as an essential rite of passage for a travelling public health specialist. But if I were feeling any worse, I might not be looking at it in such a positive light…

Malaria is common worldwide but is particularly deadly among children under five years old and especially in African countries. In Malawi it is the second-leading cause of death among this age group and the fourth leading cause of death for all age groups nationwide, behind HIV/AIDS (1), lower respiratory infections (2) and diarrhoeal diseases (3).

Here are some key facts about malaria from the World Health Organization:

  • Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected mosquitoes.
  • In 2010, malaria caused an estimated 655 000 deaths (with an uncertainty range of 537 000 to 907 000), mostly among African children.
  • Malaria is preventable and curable.
  • Increased malaria prevention and control measures are dramatically reducing the malaria burden in many places.
  • Non-immune travellers from malaria-free areas are very vulnerable to the disease when they get infected.

Memorial Guest Book for Hugh Allan Rowe

This guestbook was previously hosted on for visitors to my father’s obituary. At the one year anniversary they request you to pay an ongoing hosting/storage fee to keep it online. Since I’m not sure how much I trust them as guardian of these tributes to my father I’ve decided to replicate here on my blog. If you would like to leave a message, please use the comment function at the bottom of this post.

Age 71, Hugh died peacefully on Saturday evening, 20 August 2011 at his home in Dollard des Ormeaux, Quebec, surrounded by his family. He bravely battled cancer for twenty months. Hughie, as he was known to many of his childhood friends and family, was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia to Retha Day and Jack (Eli) Rowe. He moved to Montreal in 1941 and grew up in Rosemount as a member of the 9th Avenue gang and then had a very successful career as a stock-broker, financial advisor and options trader. Hugh was the exquisite, darling husband of Maureen (ne Harrold) for the past 34 wonderful years, beloved father of Marjorie (Ralph), Corinne (Clive), Catherine (Paul), Ryan (Kun), Anna (Antonio) and Max (Greg), and grandfather of Alex, Melanie, Michael, Christopher, Lina, Brandon, Courtney and an eighth (a grand-daughter) on the way. He is fondly remembered by his first wife Lise Verret. An avid runner for thirty years, Hugh completed several marathons and was a champion of healthy living and an amateur body-builder. He was a decades-long member of the Libertarian Party of Canada, a member of the Mensa club, and he read books and newspapers extensively. Hugh loved to watch sports – particularly his beloved Montreal Canadiens. He was very proud of his extensive stamp collection. He had also conducted a large study of his familys history back to the mid-17th Century. In recent years he went on many amazing road trips with his wife Maureen and loyal dog Davey to explore different corners of North America and Europe. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to The Canadian Cancer Society or to the St. Marys Hospital Foundation. Many heartfelt thanks to Dr. Adrian Langleben and the wonderful nursing staff at the St. Marys Oncology Treatment Centre. Visitation will take place at Rideau Funeral Home (4275 Boul. Des Sources in Dollard-des-Ormeaux) from 2:00pm to 5:00pm, and 7:00pm to 9:00pm on Wednesday 24 August 2011. The funeral service will take place at the same location at 2:00pm on Thursday 25 August 2011.


August 28, 2011

Dad, you were a great father. You will forever be in my heart and my memories. I will love you always. Your daughter, Anna.

Anna Rowe,
Montreal, Quebec
August 28, 2011
There is no death….only a changing of worlds. May you and your family forever the presence of this man in your hearts and at your side.
Cathy McCarthy,
Durham, North Carolina——–

August 27, 2011

Dear Marj and Rowe Family:
May the peace which comes from the memories of love shared, comfort you now and in the days ahead.
Linda Martin,
Garson, Ontario——–

August 27, 2011

Thank you to everyone who wrote and for the love and best wishes. It is appreciated at this time. Dad was a huge presence in my life and it is with great sadness that I realize he is no longer a phone call away. Reading your words means a lot to me.


Marjorie Rowe-Callisto,
Laval, Quebec——–

August 27, 2011

mr rowe its your son in law anthony ,,just want to say that u were the best father in law any1 can ask for ,going to miss our nights wathing the habs play r.i.p
anthony mule,

August 25, 2011

Dear Maureen & family. My deepest & heartfelt sympathy at this time for such a tremendous loss. Hugh will be sadly missed but keep yourselves strong for future ahead. All my love. Pauline——–

August 25, 2011

Our hearts are sore to lose such a kind, gentle and humerous friend. We send hugs and prayers to Maureen and family. Rest in peace my friend Hugh.
Les Wilton (a member of the 9th Avenue Gang) & Ishbel Wilton
Lester & Ishbel Wilton,
Gananoque, Ontario——–

August 24, 2011

My deepest sympathy to the Rowe family
St Mary’s volunteer
mari arias,
montreal, Quebec——–

August 24, 2011

May his sole rest in peace – our deepest sympathy to the Rowe Family. Mubashir & All HEED Team
Mubashir Niaz,
Abu Dhabi——–

August 24, 2011

Our prayers, thoughts and love go out to Maureen and the Rowe Family. The memories of all you shared will always stay in your hearts.
Bob and Frances Cartman,
Montreal, Quebec——–

August 24, 2011

My deepest sympathy to all of Hugh’s family . May he rest in Peace.
Shirley Lane Halifax( Hugh’s cousin)
Shirley Lane,
RR#2 New Germany, Nova Scotia——–

August 24, 2011

Our deepest sympathy to Anna and Ryan and the Rowe family.
Linda Sneath,
Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Quebec——–

August 23, 2011

My sincerest condolences to Catherine and her family.
Maria Candido,
Dollard des Ormeaux, Quebec——–

August 23, 2011

Our sympathies to Maureen, Ryan, and Anna from your former neighbours on Oxford Crescent ….. the Rosenblums (Stan, Donna, Mike and Adam)
Stan Rosenblum,
Newmarket, Ontario——–

August 23, 2011

Our deepest sympathy to all the Rowe family. May the love and memories you shared help you through this difficult time.
Carol (Kerr) and Derrek Tutte

Carol Tutte,
Ottawa, Ontario
——–August 23, 2011

Dear Maureen,
Ever since we moved to Brockville, I have been reading the Gazette online. I was so sad to read of Hugh’s death. Deepest sympathy to you and your family. A friend from our Book Club days,
Rosemary McGowan
August 22, 2011

To Hughie’s loving family,
May it comfort you to know that we are thinking of all of you at this time of sorrow in Newfoundland. We are happy that Hughie had kept in touch with us all these years through letters, cards and phone calls keeping us in the Rowe family loop and updating us on your family in particular. Hughie was a favourite cousin of my late mother and her siblings. We are very proud to have known such a fine gentleman. We looked forward to his visits and conversation about family geneaology very much. We shall miss his reaching out to us with love and affection as his father, Jack, did before him. We will keep our memories of him burning in our hearts and minds forever. God bless all of you.
Carole Anne, Ken, James (Julie), Joseph (Sue-anne), Jeff (Susan) and Juliana Coffey.

Carole Anne Coffey,
St. John’s, Newfoundland——–

August 22, 2011

My sincere condolences Ryan. My prayers are with your family and you.
Raj Koona,
Wellington, New Zealand——–August 22, 2011

We say “May you be spared further sorrow”.

My sincerest condolences to you and your lovely family.
Carol Wainer,
Beaconsfield, Quebec
——–August 22, 2011

My heartfelt sympathy to you at this time at the loss of your dear husband. The two of you seem to have had a wonderful relationship- much to be admired & an inspiration to other couples….I hope to see you again soon at the MLUWC bookclub meetings

Carole Newberry,
Beaconsfield, Quebec——–

August 22, 2011

You passed away on Saturday evening Dad, after a brutal fight with cancer. You may no longer be able to speak to me as I am used to but your spirit is still with me. When I go out running, you’re with me every step of the way and it feels awesome. How about a race to the finish line Dad? I love you so much. Your Sonny Boy.
Ryan Rowe,
Chapel Hill, North Carolina——–

August 22, 2011

May you be comforted by the wonderful, happy memories and love you shared together.
With love, Janet and Brian Timms

Janet and Brian Timms,
Dorval, Quebec——–

August 22, 2011

My deepest sympathies to Catherine and her family, my thoughts are with you.
Lori Bradley,
pierrefonds, Quebec
——–August 22, 2011

May the love of friends and family carry you through your grief.
Judy Andres,
Medicine Hat, Alberta——–

August 22, 2011

Sincerest Condolences
Rosa Verdecampo,
Montreal, Quebec

Happy faces in rural Kenya

I put this image together after a conversation with a friend who runs a school in a Nairobi slum. She told me that she recently spoke with one of the parents of her schoolchildren who was telling her a story about a reporter who interviewed her about what it’s like to be poor. The woman recounted how the reporter assumed that because she was poor, she was unhappy with her life. But in fact, the woman said she was happy – her kids were in school, she can pay her rent, she can buy enough food so that they do not starve, and she has a job and works six days a week. But the reporter kept questioning her and she started to think she was crazy to think this way.

It seems to me that too often we who work in the so-called “international development” industry begin our work with the assumption that those who are poorer than we are aspire to be like us, to consume like us, and to live like us. We impose our Western values on them in return for aid, and stipulate that they adapt their economies and societies so that they can become “successful” like us. But success for us may not mean the same to them. We need to rethink and reframe the conversation we are having on global development. This image is intended to provoke some thought around this.

There is a quote attributed to Lila Watson, an Australian Aboriginal:

“If you’re coming to help me, you’re wasting your time.
But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”