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Worries over Chilwa basin rainfall patterns

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Lake Chilwa is one of the tropical lakes in Africa whose ecosystem is undergoing considerable stress.

Just like Lake Chad and Lake Naivasha in Africa, rainfall amounts in the past five years has not significantly changed at Malawi’s second largest water body, although its timing and intensity has.

This has typically transformed the semi-arid lowland water body affecting 1.5 million people who make up the basin wetland population.

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The 2015/2016 season rainfall data from Mposa weather station in Machinga reveal variation in rainfall pattern in the area since November last year.

But by the time the rains came, crops had wilted, according to Traditional Authority Chamba.

“People need to be told about the required amounts of rain for them to plant,” said Chamba.

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Rainfall trends did not greatly improve in December with the area recording 163.06 mm cumulatively over a period of six days. But the rains were not adequate.

Frank Mkamalisya, a weather monitoring officer at Mposa Weather Monitoring Station who is also a rice farmer is worried over the situation.

“This year, I have planted rice but it has already been subjected to the scorching heat we are already experiencing. Farmers here are so afraid that they may face what happened last year,” said Mkamalisya.

He believes that the change in weather pattern in the area is a direct result of people’s own actions.

“Almost all the inlet rivers to the lake from hills like Chisi are almost silting up due to continued wanton cutting down of trees. Water runoffs have become the order of the day and that is affecting most people’s lives,” he says.

Cosmo Ngongondo, an associate professor in the Department of Geography at Chancellor College, says inconsistent rainfall variation is common to all areas in the Lake Chilwa basin.

There are eight rainfall monitoring stations in the Lake Chilwa basin namely Mposa, Mikoko, Mpinda, Kasongo, Likangala, Khanda, Malosa and Domasi.

“We have been monitoring the situation for almost five years through data from the weather stations spread across the basin. Though 2014 / 15 generally registered particularly the highest amount of rainfall in the basin its distribution was very poor. Most of the rain had little chances of percolating into the soils due to poor land cover and the intensity at which it was falling.

“This therefore resulted to most of the rain water getting collected in rivers as direct run off hence causing flooding in some of the areas in the basin,” says Ngongondo.

An article ‘Effect of climate change on rain-fed maize production – Assessment of maize production versus changing rainfall pattern in Malawi’ published in a Journal of Rainwater Catchment Systems, shows the rainfall pattern in the basin has remained irregular for 60 years.

Rainfall distribution characteristics, it indicates, have changed over time, becoming more unpredictable contributing to reduced productivity of several natural resources.

This includes the land and water necessitating adaptations to the erratic rainfall and drought spells.

Though the variations in rain have been there, Chamba also blames weather experts for not preparing people to adapt.

“Stockholders are not united to build resilience. Experts should tell people what should be done in such scenarios and that all those concerned should come to a round table for an action plan,” Chamba says.

Professor Richard Tambulasi, Chancellor College Principal, urges for collaborative research on matters of climate change between the academia and policy makers with the community involved.

“The cost and benefits of climate change adaptation strategies can be either expert-led and top down or community-based and bottom up,” he says.

Sosten Chiotha, Director of Leadership for Environment and Development (Lead), believes that while the rainfall variations in the basin could be seen as normal, they have been aggravated by climate change over the few years.

“Variations in weather are normal but things get slightly harder when they go beyond the expected levels due to climate change,” he says.

Yanira Mtupanyama, Secretary for Environment and Climate Change, believes integrating indigenous knowledge into the countries policies would foster community inclusion on matters of climate change in an effort to build people’s resilience.

“The climate change and forestry policies are in the pipeline and government is also in the process of developing a meteorological policy that will be linked to the climate policy that is also in the final stages,” says Mtupanyama.

She adds that people in the Lake Chirwa districts need to look after the environment in the catchment area of that basin lake

Isaac Chipeta, programme officer for Machinga ADD believes monitoring rainfall, lake water levels and river discharge should be disseminated to communities and policy makers to stimulate planning for the future.

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