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Water crisis looms in Malawi

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Malawi faces the threat of water shortages if nothing is done to reverse the problem of dwindling water sources in the country, the 2021 Annual Economic Output Report shows.

“During the reporting period, the estimated water availability still stood at 1102.5m³/capita/year as compared to last year. This shows that Malawi is slightly heading towards [the status of] a water scarce country, if nothing happens, as it is getting closer to be below 1,000 m³/capita/year, a mark that is used to measure water scarcity of any country based on annual renewable water,” the report reads.

The report, however, says several strategies are being put in place which will foster an increase in water availability in the next two to three years.

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“As one way of increasing water availability for various productive uses, the sector continued to enhance the efficient operation of the Kamuzu Barrage at Liwonde using the Kamuzu Barrage Operational Model. This enables the regulation of flow in the Shire River to meet hydropower generation and other water demands downstream but also helped to regulate the water level in Lake Malawi.

“In principle, this enabled the overall conservation of water in the lake as evidenced by the significant improvement of the lake levels above those recorded for the past seven years. The improved operation of the barrage abated the occurrence of extreme low flows in the Shire River thereby sustaining hydropower generation.

“Additionally, the new barrage also continues to help in the management of weeds which usually affect hydropower generation downstream,” the report adds.

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Water resource expert Elias Chimulambe said groundwater, which is measured in such exercises, is crucial as it determines the ability of future generations to have consistent supplies of the commodity.

He said surface water people see in lakes, rivers and dams is not sustainable as it depends on rainfall in the previous wet season.

Chimulambe said the country should protect its water catchment areas.

“The good examples are Dzalanyama which feeds Lilongwe River, Lake Chilwa area in Zomba, Likhubula in Mulanje and the Kirk Range valley. When we protect such sources, it means we have managed to keep water,” he said.

Another water resource expert Muthi Nhlema, who is Team Leader at BASEflow, said the obvious problem causing water scarcity in the country is the population boom, arguing the population is putting pressure on the country’s water resources.

Nhlema, however, said even more critical is water source protection and management which, he said, had been neglected.

“The government, politicians and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been focusing on supplying the water other than protecting the sources of water themselves. We have Lake Malawi, yes, but it is not just a matter of tapping water from there. If we do not protect it and its rivers, there may not be a lake in a century.

“Politicians and NGOs alike like to show people out there that they are supplying water out there. But it’s not just a matter of drilling boreholes. How much goes into checking how much water we have in the ground? How much is spent on protecting the sources of the water themselves? Trees are planted every year but how much is spent on ensuring that the trees survive?” he queried.

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