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Enviro Talk: Lower Shire – The post disaster sides

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On Tuesday, I had the chance to travel to Nsanje and Chikwawa on the East Bank of the Shire River. My last visit there was in 2011, five years ago. Right away from Thabwa junction the entire 70 kilometer road is a sorry sight.

Travelling along the road to reach Muona and Makhanga is pathetic especially on a public transport as bridges along the road are slowly being washed away and road losing shape by swelling waters.

Every time it rains uphill, it is a concern to the residents downhill as they have to wait for swelling rivers to recede when travelling. This has implication on health, education and others social services that the local people need to access for their day to day lives.

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Sadly, rivers such as Nkhate, Masenjere, Livunzu and Mapelera bring down with them rocks from up the mountain and deposit them in human habitation. On the other hand siltation is wrecking havoc in arable land as river courses keep changing. This is so because there is a lot of cultivation taking place in fragile areas especially on the Thyolo escarpment and the highlands. There is need for extension initiatives to be intensified especially on issues related to land husbandry use and the implication such actions has on downstream communities.

One typical example of this problem is how the Ruo River has actually changed it course in Group Village Head Osiyana village sweeping away graveyards, arable land for agriculture leaving people without gardens to cultivate. The other challenge being the Ruo has actually gone to the extent of burying an entire railway transport infrastructure putting it aside and useless on the river bank.

This is how changes brought be climate effects can be detrimental to the economy and well being for the people. To start to imagine the remedial measures to rehabilitate such facilities is to dream in billions of dollars for an ailing economy on a life support machine. Yet we are talking of connecting ourselves to the coast and then use the railway system to move our goods to Central Business Districts.

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We need long term plans to ensure we restore all the degraded areas with vegetative cover to prevent direct rain impact. It is time for advanced collaboration between various government institutions including policies those related to environment, water, land use and irrigation to ensure they speak to each other.

For instance, the land resources and conservation department has a lot of work to convince those people cultivating on steep slopes which are marginal areas to stop the malpractice. The ministry must provide solution to crop diversification even when planted on a small scale of land.

There are good efforts though being taken worth commending in traditional authority Mulolo and Mbenje in Nsanje through the phased out Capacity Building on Climate Change and Adaptation.

This was a Leadership for Environment and Development, DfID supported program implemented in Makhanga and Magoti Extension Planning Areas.

In order to assess the effectiveness of the 2011 phase out program, a team of experts travelled to the sites to appreciate the survival rate of the trees and whether the initial structures they put in place are still operational. True to the words the committees are still there and thriving hence despite the project having wrapped up they still claim ownership of the initiative.

Some more interesting developments include local villagers who have managed to control swelling waters in one stream in Group Village Osiyana by planting trees and hence arresting run-off from interfering with crop fields. In total an estimated 20,000 trees have been planted in Osiyana, Mchacha, Sambani, Kalonge, Goke, Mphwiri and Juwaki. In Goke village farmers have managed to stop Thangadzi River from swelling hence threatening their sleeping ancestors in the graveyard after restoring the river bank.

El Nino effects have not spared the area as well, this year rains started on 19 January now below knee height. As such farmers are calling for drought tolerant crops such as cassava, sweet potatoes and cow peas to diversify their crops so that they can enhance their food security status that is if the other crops fail to do well. Perhaps, it is time to critically consider mainstreaming climate change in transport infrastructure and food security as well as part of long term planning to cushion negative effects.

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