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Degraded: Lake Chilwa

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As government, religious groups, companies and NGOs are scaling up the fight against environmental degradation and climate change by planting more trees, people around Traditional Authorities (T/A) Nkhumbira and Mwambo in Zomba are having to pay heavily for their cutting down of trees wantonly.

Chairman of Kachulu Harbour, John Majawa, cited the reduction in production of fish in Lake Chilwa as a direct example of how bad deforestation and environmental degradation have hit the old capital, just like most parts of the country.

He attributed the problem to man-made cause, singling out farmers who cultivate along river banks and some people who cut down trees for charcoal processing, timber and baking bricks.

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“What happens is that when they want to grow vegetables along the banks, they block the rivers to access water for watering their seeds, be it rice or vegetables. Since they use heaps of grass and leaves, after harvesting they do not clean up and after few days, the leaves start to rot as a result, the water cannot proceed to the lake,” Majawa said.

He spoke during a familiarisation tour of Lake Chilwa, organised by Leadership for Environmental and Development (Lead) recently.

And today, Group Village Headman Tchuka is particularly worried with the low water level in the lake. He has every right to be concerned since they use boats whenever people want to go to the hospital, either at Kachulu Heath Centre or Zomba Centre Hospital.

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The Group Village, whose jurisdiction is over Chisi Island, said deforestation and climate change has brought poverty in his area because most of his subjects rely on the lake for their livelihood while the very few people that have gardens have seen their crops being affected by drought and armyworms.

“We have nowhere to depend upon…just imagine the boats no longer carry more than five passengers because the water level does not allow them to sail as we would have expected… we depend on fishing nothing else,” Tchuka said.

Lead Regional Director Professor Sosten Chiotha urged both traditional and political leaders to mobilise their people to plant more trees and at the same, look after shoots because they are easy to grow since they are natural trees “As everyone knows, the whole world is experiencing climate change and deforestation, it is not a one-man-show for the government but everybody should play a role by planting a tree or trees. Lets fight deforestation to sustain our livelihood,” Chiotha said.

Unfortunately, rivers flow into the lake; Likangala, Domasi, Phalombe, Nayizi, Lingoni and Thondwe are also being stretched owing to the same scenario; cutting down trees wantonly and cultivating along river banks.

Jolamu Mwinjilo from the area of T/A Mwambo claimed since he came back from Theba (South Africa) in 1981, he has never sought employment anywhere, stressing his livelihood is fishing and selling the same at Kachulu Habour.

“I have four boats which used to carry passengers from Kachulu Harbour to Chisi Island and ferry fishermen to as far as Mozambique to buy fish but since the water level does not allow the boats to do that anymore, they are just grounded, as a result, some of my employees are temporarily on leave” Mwinjilo said.

He said the fish that is sold in some markets in the country these days was caught a long time ago and is simply treated with chemicals and stored.

“Even the dry Chambo we used to enjoy, some of it lately is tasteless and you can rarely find utaka or matemba a Domasi, if by chance you get them you cannot enjoy as before because they are treated with chemicals,” Mwinjilo said.

Councillor for Chilwa ward Cedrick Kokani said if people do not take ownership of the lake, it may continue to subside or dry up completely He said there is a tendency by some farmers who cultivate along river banks that cannot sustain the environment in the face of degradation.

They cut the trees and when the rains come, the water sweeps all particles, including sand, into the lake which absorbs the water, as a result, it is sinking down “If the present scenario is not addressed, there is danger because, at one time or the other, the lake may dry completely,” Kokani said.

He said three quarters of households in the areas of T/A Nkhumbira and Mwambo depend on the lake as a source of their livelihood.

Lake Chilwa produces Mlamba, Chambo, Mphindira, Utaka, Makakana and a special breed of matemba, popularly known as matemba a Domasi.

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