Communities around Lake Chilwa in Malawi’s eastern city of Zomba have blamed irrigation farming and new methods of fishing as the main factors contributing to the drying of Lake Chilwa. The community members were speaking to Chancellor College Environmental law students on Thursday during an outreach program by the Environmental clinic to study the impact of the drying of the lake on the lives of the people.
“This irrigation program popularly known as Ulimi wa Mthilira started with few people; it was not a problem by then, but today as many people are doing; it has become a big problem. People have moved into catchment areas of all the rivers that flow into Chilwa such as Domasi, Likangala, Naisi, Nembo and Phalombe and completely reducing the inflow of water into the lake,” complained Lovemore Subili; one of the villagers whose daily life depends on the lake. He attributed overpopulation as one of the factors that had led people living in catchment areas. Subili also added that the new method of fishing introduced by people from Machinga, has also worsened the situation.
“This new method of fishing was not here before. What these people do is; they uproot some grass and use it in catching fish. This is the same grass that covers the water and protect it from the sun. Once they do this the water dries fast. If you had come here two weeks ago, you would not have been here, the water was next to those houses.” Chipped in another villager Gift Makochera. He was pointing to a village almost a kilometre away from the lake.
Gift Makochera also attributed to erratic rainfall as one of the factors that has exacerbated the dryness of Lake Chilwa. “This lake is not getting sufficient water because of erratic rainfall,” argued Makochera. “Imagine in 1994 the lake completely dried-up to the extent that people started farming, it was because of insufficient rainfall,” he added.
Asked how their lives get affected when the lake dries up; the villagers lamented bitterly. “Everything comes to a standstill; this is our fishing ground, this is our source of money in terms of transport and once it dries up we are nothing,” stressed Lovemore Subili.
“But as a community after seeing all these problems what solutions do you implement yourselves to deal with this problem?” one of the students; Monica Namondwe asked the community members. The members confessed that there is little they can do on their own when the government and the law enforcers are doing nothing. “Look, there is a fisheries department here and they know about this new fishing method but they just ignore it. What can we ordinary people do? If people are building in catchment areas who should move them?” responded the villagers.
The community members also blamed some NGOs that come to the area to solve the problem without consulting the community members. “These NGOs come here with already-made solutions; they don’t even consult us yet we live here and we know all the problems. Instead of understanding us first they come with solutions and ended up achieving nothing. May be you should go and write a book,” joked one of the villagers to Gommy Mchawi who led the delegation.
Environmental law lecturer Chikosa Banda, asked the villagers about the hygiene of the lake. The villagers had a torrid time in responding to the question. It was observed that the communities around the lake were using a bush nearby as toilets. “It is indeed true that people use that bush as a toilet, many households in that area lack toilet facilities. But we were vaccinated against cholera so we don’t complain”, argued the villagers sending the students into stitches. Other participants in the Environmental clinic included John Kalampa, Smith Chaoneka, Ntisunge Chiutula, Titani Chalira, Kondwani Tembo and Dumisani Kawiya.
Malawi is currently facing environmental challenges. The forests are fast dwindling at a fast pace prompting the government to employ desperate measures to save them. Soldiers have been deployed to guard forests such as Dzalanyama, Chimaliro and Chikangawa. Overpopulation, lack of economic opportunities have all been blamed for this environmental degradation.