The Status of Sanitation in Malawi: Is SDG6.2 Achievable?

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2023 Aug 5;20(15):6528. doi: 10.3390/ijerph20156528.


Ensuring access to adequate and equitable sanitation and ending open defecation by 2030 is the focus of Sustainable Development Goal 6.2 (SDG6.2). We evaluated Malawi's progress towards SDG 6.2 (specifically the goal to end open defecation), presenting the results of a national survey of over 200,000 sanitary facilities and evaluating their management. Based on non-linear population dynamics, we used a linear model to evaluate the reduction in open defecation between 1992-2018, and to project whether Malawi can meet the SDG target to end open defecation by 2030 under multiple scenarios of population growth. Whilst Malawi has made considerable progress in providing sanitary provision for the population, we estimate that, at the current rate of the provision of sanitary facilities, Malawi will not reach SDG 6.2 by 2030 under any of the modelled socioeconomic scenarios. Furthermore, we compare the estimates of the extent of sanitary provision classed as improved from multiple surveys, including the USAID Demographic and Health (DHS) Surveys and Government of Malawi Census data. We conclude that some of the surveys (particularly the 2015/16 DHS) may be overestimating the level of improved sanitary provision, and we hypothesize that this is due to how pit-latrines with earth/sand slabs are classed. Furthermore, we examine the long-term sustainability of pit-latrine use, investigating the challenge of pit-latrine abandonment and identifying pit-latrine filling as a cause of the abandonment in 30.2% of cases. We estimate that between 2020-2070, 31.8 (range 2.8 to 3320) million pit-latrines will be filled and abandoned, representing a major challenge for the safe management of abandoned latrines, a potential for long-term impacts on the groundwater quality, and a significant loss of investment in sanitary infrastructure. For Malawi to reach SDG 6.2, improvements are needed in both the quantity and quality of its sanitary facilities.

Keywords: Malawi; linear model; open defecation; sanitation; survey; sustainable development goals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Groundwater*
  • Humans
  • Malawi
  • Rural Population
  • Sanitation* / methods
  • Toilet Facilities

Grants and funding

This research was funded by the Scottish Government under the Scottish Government Climate Justice Fund Water Futures Programme research grant HN-CJF-03 awarded to the University of Strathclyde (R.M. Kalin). Funding was also received from the Scottish Government for the joint Ph.D. studentship of R.G.K Hinton between the James Hutton Institute and the University of Strathclyde.