According to official data, approximately 80% of Malawians have access to an improved source of drinking water. However, this leaves about 4 million people who still lack access to safe drink water. Moreover only 6% of Malawians have access to adequate sanitation (Access to Clean Water). Diarrhoeal diseases, which claim the lives of over 9,000 children under the age of five every year, are frequently contracted from water collected from unprotected sources, such as open wells, pits, streams and rivers. In communities with access to clean, free water from well-maintained boreholes, less money is spent on healthcare and more time can be spent productively. WaterAid figures indicate that fewer than a third of the rural population in Malawi has access to a latrine. Apart from the serious health issues associated with unsafe hygiene practices, the lack of single-sex toilet and washing facilities affects women and girls disproportionately, exposing them to a higher risk of sexual harassment and denying them dignity and privacy, especially during menstruation. Some teenage girls drop out of education altogether due to unacceptable sanitation facilities in schools.
Only 12% percent of the population has access to mains electricity and the supply is unreliable with regular power cuts (Power Africa Fact Sheet). Those with no electricity either retire to bed when the sun goes down or rely on inefficient, costly and potentially dangerous candles or kerosene lamps to light their homes after dark. Both can cause burns and fires if they are accidentally knocked over, left unattended or placed too close to anything flammable. Working or reading by candlelight leads to eye strain and the health implications of inhaling the toxic fumes from kerosene lamps are known to include persistent coughs, dermatitis, cataracts, and respiratory and eye infections. It is suspected that the fumes may also be carcinogenic.