The Shrinking of Lake Chilwa

In Southern Malawi, a landlocked south-eastern country in Africa, temperatures have been infamously known to get extremely hot. Most residents would have noted the year 2012, where most residents saw scorching temperatures that threatened the livelihoods of all Malawians. This is because, during this year, the vast expanse of Lake Chilwa almost vanished, such was the temperatures at the time. The dry climate had caused little rain to support the rivers that would eventually feed the lake, meaning that Lake Chilwa soon began to deplete.

Alfred Samuel, a 52-year-old from the Zomba district remembered the reaction to that hot year, saying, “Many fishermen were forced to scramble for land near the lake banks, while others had to migrate to the city”. These would have been families that would have spent generations living by the lake, forced to move away from their ancestral homes due to the rising temperature and the fleeting water reserves of the lake’ “We could barely feed our children because the lake could not provide enough fish, or water for rice growing” Samuel said.

Samuel is a fisherman by trade, and he relies on the lake to make a living and provide for his family. However, 2012 represented the extreme scenario of what could happen if the lake dried up and there were no more fish to catch or water to cook with. Samuel has fished the lake since the ’80s and has become intimately familiar with the changing water levels of the lake. In recent times though, the climate has become hotter, and with it, the weather has become increasingly unpredictable. This could have dire consequences for the more than 1.5 million people who rely on Lake Chilwa, which stands as Malawi’s second-biggest lake.

The history of the lake is important for knowing how dire the situation today is. When the explorer David Livingstone first discovered it in 1859, he reported it being around 60-80 miles long. Today, the lake is roughly half that. This is because of the changing water levels of the lake, and areas that had once seen a high-water level have now drained so much that whole regions are no longer considered to be part of the main body of the lake.

The continuing shrinking of Lake Chilwa can be seen as recent as 2018, where the lake shrank by about 60%. This is an absurd number considering the size of it, and many of those that relied on Lake Chilwa, like Samuel, were forced to simply abandon it and flee to Lake Malawi, which is insignificantly bigger. Some people fear that the same thing that happened in 2018 could be repeated this year, as the Lake Chilwa basin received less than 1000mm of rain this season. To sustain water levels, the basin must receive over a metre of rain every year, and it seems that fears are well placed.

These fears, especially considering the recent pandemic would have troubled even the most resilient Malawian. Despite this, there would have been many activities that would have helped take people’s minds off these hardships, including online gambling. A resource for good options can be found here, though the problem of Lake Chilwa is still likely to be on the minds of many residents who rely on it to survive.

It is clear that human activity is the cause of the reduced rainfall and shrinking of the lake, and only through drastic intervention and clear changes can Lake Chilwa and its residents have a chance of returning to normal once again.

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