Without leaders on the ground and in local, district, and national governments championing water services for Everyone Forever, the wells and pumps don’t mean much. When they break, who will fix them? How will repairs be paid for? Who will promote behavior change so the new, safe water services are actually used? How can these systems be resilient in the face of climate change?
Enter Chrispin Songola.
Chrispin is the District Water Development Officer in Chikwawa District, Malawi – one of the most resource-scarce districts where Water For People works. Chrispin’s role makes him one of the key players in the work we support in Malawi. In fact, leaders like Chrispin are prerequisites to a district passing our Sustainable Services Checklist – the list of requirements we look for before calling our work in any district complete. As service authorities like Chrispin’s office become more established, they gradually need Water For People’s support less and less – allowing us to complete our work confidently knowing water services are held in capable hands – Forever.
"The job of our office is to ensure we reach out into the communities, helping them to access water as stipulated in our national water policy," Chrispin says. "We work hand in hand with Water For People."
Chrispin’s office is part of Malawi’s Ministry of Water, Development, and Education. He’s been working with the ministry for 20 years and has spent the last three years as Chikwawa’s District WASH Officer.
Under Chrispin’s leadership, Chikwawa has made strides toward Everyone Forever – which is line with Malawi’s goal of Water For All, Always. "The wording is different but the target is the same," says Chrispin. This makes his mandate not just to expand water access but to ensure it’s around Forever – and he says sustainability changes how he programs.
To guarantee water services last for the long term, Chrispin and his office have focused on capacity building. This has meant building institutional capacity within the district WASH office, community knowledge of how to maintain and promote water points, and individual ability of his team members to make sure they can meet the high demands of Chikwawa’s communities.
"Even if I’m not there, they should be able to do this," says Chrispin, emphasizing water services should be sustainable and not dependent on him as the District WASH officer. "The goal is to have a Chikwawa where Everyone has access to safe water Forever," he says.
One of the biggest challenges Chrispin faces moving forward is climate change. He says everyone in Chikwawa understands its effects.
"Chikwawa is one of the districts that gets low rainfall every year," he says. "If it’s not a flood, it’s a dry spell."
Floods like the ones in 2015 that wiped out much of the district’s water and sanitation infrastructure and the drought that followed have led to an emphasis on water resources management. Chrispin himself has been studying up on water supply and management – another piece of the Sustainable Services Checklist.
"We are living in an environment where the climate is not the same as it used to be," he says. "There is nothing we can do but adapt."
With a focus on water resources management and Chrispin’s eyes on sustainability as he stands at the helm of the district WASH office, Chikwawa is on track to reach Everyone Forever.
"I see the future bright," says Chrispin. "Because I see sustainability."