Stubbornness and lack of genuine interest in environmental management has earned people of Chimpikiti and surrounding villages of
Traditional Authority Kalembo in Balaka more than what they ever imagined.
They saw it coming but paid no attention.
They watched a natural drainage transforming into a stream and later into a full river. And they helped it do so.
And it began spitting its anger on people and their property, rendering them a charity case.
Kaweya Junior Primary school which had its classes washed away was one of its first victims.
Its pupils stayed sometime without learning for a good part of that rainy season two years ago.
“People of this area are very stubborn. Anyone who warned them about this issue was deemed violating their human rights because they were cultivating on their land,” recalls Maxwell Kalele, Chairperson for Kalembo Area Extension Community Committee.
Kalele tells that the man-made disaster began five years ago when people began cultivating on the land that separated Katapasya (the tributary) and Nkasi (the main river).
Over the years, the course of Nkasi River kept changing as Katapasya tributary grew bigger until the main river course completely changed.
“Even though people were advised against cultivating on the land and plant trees along the river banks instead, they continued to cultivate.
“Gradually, the river began to change its course. Every rainy season, the tributary grew and has now become a big destructive river,” he explains.
Kalele adds that the river grows every rainy season leaving dangerous galleys and eating up the land.
The sight of the newly-formed Katapasa river is so scary. It appears Namalomba Community Day Secondary School (CDSS) is also at risk of being eaten up by the ‘man-made’ river.
The modern school is less than 100 metres away from the river; and should nothing be done about the situation, the school is standing in the way of trouble.
Group Village Head Chimpikiti echoes Kalele’s observation adding that he has failed as a traditional leader to use his influence to prevent environmental degradat ion in the area.
“Many people are resisting change. When we make an effort to plant trees along the river banks to prevent more damage, they go there at night and uproot them,” he laments.
Chimpikiti further notes that people are using human rights as their weapon to frustrate efforts by the Village and Area Development Committees.
“We have been planting reeds and bamboos but they have all been destroyed. It appears these human rights have somehow been misunderstood. I’m afraid that is diluting powers of traditional leaders,” says Chimpikiti, sounding very frustrated.
He also does not hide the fact that the area is now feeling the pinch of environmental degradation saying many people died while others lost their hard earned property in last rainy season’s floods.
“We also lost school structures of Kaweya Primary two years ago. The school was relocated but we still need lots of money to have structures to make it a proper school.
“If we don’t change, we are likely to lose our beautiful Namalomba CDSS all this because of a few selfish people,” says the vividly emotive GVH.
Chimpikiti now demands immediate government intervention to help save the situation.
Parliamentarian for Balaka Central East, Yaumi Mpaweni says it is expensive to deal with the effects of environmental degradation than it is to spend on preventive measures.
He cites the example of Kaweya Primary school which was washed away two years ago but now has a few classes at its relocation place.
“We will have to use Local Development Fund (LDF) money to build school blocks and teachers’ houses. If people had listened, we would have used these funds elsewhere but it seems we aren’t making progress,” he says.
Executive Director for Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (Cepa) William Chadza says the case of the creation of Katapasa River which has caused mayhem and is likely to cause more would have been prevented if the country put its efforts towards containing environmental degradation.
“The most critical aspect which needs to change as soon as possible is the fact that Malawi is more of a responsive nation than that of preventive,” he observes.
Chadza adds that it is pleasing to note that there is progress and the launch of National Disaster Risk Management Policy is enough evidence.
“It is high time people were taught about their role in environmental degradation prevention. That way we wouldn’t be busy with fire fighting when disaster strikes or we may prevent disaster altogether,” he says
Speaking on the sidelines of this year’s World Environment Day (WED) commemorated on June 5, 2015 at Namalomba school ground in Balaka,
Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, Bright Msaka admitted that Malawi is in danger because it has not paid the required attention to environmental management for many years.
“We have experienced the worst floods ever in the history of the country because our environment is degraded. The case of Katapasya growing into a big destructive river is no exception,” he observed.
Msaka also said if the current generation continues to be careless, the earth will not be a better place for the next generation.
“God created the environment for us to survive in it. Trees protect our rivers and would save this situation here at Namalomba but look at what people are doing. They are cutting them down for charcoal production,” he said.
Msaka suggested that chiefs need to be empowered so that people should be responsible for environment management at local level.
The Malawi State of Environment and Outlook report of 2010 notes that there is evidence that forestry resources are degrading at a fast rate of 2.5 per cent per year.
The report says the main cause of this is agricultural expansion caused by rapid population growth.
“In addressing environmental degradation, a pertinent consideration is the organisation of the economy, especially the agricultural sector.
“This is a sector dominated by the small scale sub-sector operations without access to modern means and techniques of production which puts the environment at risk. At the same time makes it difficult to enforce environmental laws and regulations,” reads part of the report.
According to the report, in Malawi, the distribution of employment shows that in 2008, 84 per cent of the employed (aged 15 years and above) were engaged in agriculture, forestry and fishing indicating direct dependence on natural resources.
Goal seven of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is to ensure environmental sustainability by this year (2015).
Among other targets, the country is supposed to integrate the principles of sustainable development into the country policies and programmes and reverse loss of environment resources .
According to the report, the underlying causes of environmental degradation are high population density, and dependence on subsistence agricultural production in the absence of other economic opportunities.
The national theme for this year’s WED commemorations was ‘Prevent man-made disasters. Use natural resources sustainably’.
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