Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Shrinking lake threatens livelihoods in Malawi

IRIN: Mposa Village, in south-eastern Malawi’s Machinga District, used to sit on the shores of Lake Chilwa. Now its residents, who have long relied on the lake to earn a living, have to walk two hours to reach its edge.

Lake Chilwa, Malawi’s second largest lake, used to measure 60km by 40km, but it is shrinking after two years of below-average rainfall. Its shores have moved about 15km inward, and experts warn that if the coming rainy season does not bring adequate rainfall, the lake could dry up completely.

The falling water levels are already having a major economic impact on the 1.5 million people in three districts - Machinga, Zomba and Phalombe - who rely on the lake for fishing and farming. In a normal year, Lake Chilwa supplies up to 20,000 tons of fish, accounting for about 20 percent of all fish catches in Malawi. As parts of the lake have dried up, catches have fallen, although it is not yet clear by how much.

...Reduced sources of potable water, combined with poor sanitation in crowded areas that still have adequate water levels, likely contributed to a recent cholera outbreak.

...To sustain water levels, the lake needs 1,000mm of rain every year, but only received about 740mm during each of the last two rainy seasons, said Sosten Chiotha, a professor at the University of Malawi and an expert with the Lake Chilwa Basin Climate Change Adaptation Programme (LCBCCAP). Chiotha is also regional director of the Leadership for Environment and Development in Southern and Eastern Africa (LEAD), a global non-profit....

Lake Chilwa view from space

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