Award-winning photographer captures community's hopes for clean water

16 January 2018
Mozambique, Water
Joao Magaissa, a farmer in his 70's, overlayed on an image of a puddle of murky water formed after the first day of the rainy season in M'mele village, Cuamba district, Niassa province, Mozambique, November 2017. WaterAid/Mário Macilau

Former street-child now award-winning photographer, Mário Macilau has created an incredible set of striking black and white photos in collaboration with international development charity, WaterAid.  His sensitive, bewitching photos reveal life in a remote village in the northern Mozambique province of Niassa.

From the healing prowess of Madalena the witch doctor, to the optimism of Josephina the schoolgirl, Mário Macilau’s new bond with this particular community is clear to see in the images. 

In Niassa province, more than half the population has no access to safe water, and just one in five (21%) have decent toilets. As a result, deadly diseases such as diarrhoea are common.

Over the next three years, Maputo-based Macilau will document the development of this village, capturing the impact that WaterAId’s introduction of safe water and decent toilets will have upon everyone. 

Angelina Bonifaciao, 18, with her daughter Irene in Sosina Masel, in the foothills of the Gurúè mountains, Mozambique, November 2017.WaterAid/Mário Macilau

Mário Macilau said:
“I wanted to be involved with this project as it allows both respect for humanity, and gives room for creativity. I like to observe, I like to be, I like to get to know people before I pick up my camera. With all the world now choosing colour, I feel more comfortable shooting in black and white.

“Water is such an important subject for me. I never imagined that there were people in my country who are struggling to such an extent for water. We all know that water is life, but if you’ve never experienced [lack of it] for yourself, you’ll never realise how hard basic survival can be.” 

The situation is part of the legacy of 26 years of civil war, which caused a famine, one million deaths, displaced millions and destroyed infrastructure and the economy. People returned to find their homes and roads destroyed, and their farms overgrown. 

Until now, the community of M’mele has relied on the Rio Lurio as its water source. During the rainy season, dirt and excrement is washed in to the river, exposing all users to life-threatening diseases such as typhoid and cholera. For the rest of the year it is a dry, sandy riverbed which yields little, if any, water.

The rio Nanjana, which is a 'torrente', or at this time of year a stagnant, milky-looking stream running off of the Muassi river, is where villagers who live nearby colllect all of their water, Muassi village, MozambiqueWaterAid/Mário Macilau

Madalena, the village witch doctor, knows she can’t help those with diarrhoea, saying:
“I cannot lie, this kind of diarrhoea here, because of the water, I cannot treat it. Only if someone comes here with a stomach pain that has been caused by a witch, then I can treat it. When someone has a problem with their stomach from the water, they go to the hospital.” 

With support from WaterAid’s Untapped appeal, the families will be learning the importance of hygiene, helping to construct toilets and prepare for boreholes, which will bring huge health and economic benefits to the villages. All donations made by 31st January will be matched by the UK Government, meaning the public’s money will go twice as far to help transform people’s lives with clean water and good sanitation. The villagers of M’mele are looking forward to a new and positive future, as they work to improve their access to clean water and decent toilets. 

67-year-old Suzana Tomola is the primary caretaker for her 80-year-old husband who has dementia, and disabled 14-year-old grandson Rogério, M'mele village, Mozambique, November 2017.WaterAid/Mário Macilau

Read more about Mario's 3 year project to capture change in Mozambique in his blog >

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Notes to Editors:

Every £1 donated by the public to WaterAid’s Untapped appeal before 31 January 2018 will be doubled by the UK Government, meaning we’ll be able to bring clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene to twice as many untapped communities. 

Macilau is embarking on a three-year project with WaterAid, documenting the personal stories of people living in the communities that will gain access to water, sanitation and hygiene. He’ll be following the impacts that these interventions will make upon the people of northern Mozambique, demonstrating how aid is working. 

Macilau’s recent awards and recognition include Macilau having being invited to participate in a program and exhibition with the United Nations Office, World Press Photo, and the Universal Rights Group (2016). Macilau was also chosen as one of the Foreign Policy's '100 Leading Global Thinkers' at a ceremony in Washington D.C. (2015). Macilau was selected to give a talk at Harvard University in Boston as one of the panelists during the Boston Global Forum (BGF) in 2015, and again in 2016 the BGF selected Macilau to be a Michael Dukakis Leadership Fellow for 2016-2017. Macilau's work has won several awards including the European Union Award for Environment (2015), the UNESCO-Aschberg Bursary for Visual Arts (2014), and he is a laureate of the Africa Centre's Fountainhead Residency Award (2014).

WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organisation works in 34 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 25.8 million people with clean water and 25.1 million people with decent toilets. For more information, visit, follow @WaterAidUK or @WaterAidPress on Twitter, or find WaterAid UK on Facebook at

  • 844 million people in the world – one in nine – do not have clean water close to home. 
  • 2.3 billion people in the world – almost one in three – do not have a decent toilet of their own.  
  • Around 289,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That's almost 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes. 
  • Every £1 invested in water and toilets returns an average of £4 in increased productivity. 
  • Just £24 can provide one person with clean water.  
  • To find out if countries are keeping their promises on water and sanitation, see the online database