Subsistence farmers and urban poor most hit by climate change in Malawi

Subsistence farmers, the urban poor, and fishers are the most vulnerable groups affected by climate risks in Malawi, and urgent adaptation measures are required, according to a report on Integration of Water Security into Nationally Determined Contributions in Malawi.

The report was done under the Global Climate Change Alliance Plus (GCCA+) programme which Global Water Partnership Southern Africa (GWPSA) is implementing on behalf of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Secretariat. The GCCA+ programme is funded by the European Union to increase the capabilities of SADC Member States to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, and have their voices better heard in international climate change negotiations. 

Government of Malawi data shows that climate change affects more than 84 percent of Malawians who depend on rain-fed agriculture and other natural resource-based livelihoods. Vulnerability to climate change impacts in Malawi is said to be caused by factors such as deep–rooted poverty, high dependence on subsistence rain-fed agriculture, and rapid human population growth that results in pollution and overexploitation of natural resources. 

“Malawi experiences the impacts of climatic hazards such as localised drought and floods leading to poor yields or total crop failure, thus exacerbating problems of water security and food security. Subsistence rain-fed farming is particularly vulnerable to climatic hazards due to the low adaptive capacity and practices that are increasingly incompatible with climatic variability. Women are also more vulnerable, as they comprise the majority of the subsistence farmers,” reads the report.

The urban poor are vulnerable mainly because they lack access to land, housing and sanitation as they often reside on the fringes and marginal areas that pose considerable climate risk. The vulnerability of the urban poor is exacerbated by climate changes which lead to limited access to portable water.

On how climate change is impacting artisanal fisheries, the report says; “Increased temperatures coupled with increased rainfall variability are affecting lake levels, circulation patterns, water chemistry, stream flows and siltation. These effects of climate change are mounting threats on freshwater ecosystems leading to decline in catch per unit effort. The artisanal fisheries are the ones significantly affected because of their levels of technology and overreliance on fisheries for their livelihoods.”  

Technical Advisor for GWPSA’s Climate Programme Mr. Kidanemariam Jembere says Malawi needs to implement adaptive measures to build resilience in the various sectors including water, agriculture, human health, energy and infrastructure.

Meanwhile, during consultations in Malawi’s three cities of Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Blantyre, participants cited the need to incorporate climate change in the country’s school curriculum to help change mindsets of citizens from a young age to ensure that human behaviour is not exacerbating climatic risks.

They also proposed scaling up alternative energy sources and empowerment of communities by focusing on alternative income generating activities and lowering of the electricity tariff through use of renewable energy.

To manage droughts, the report recommends scaling up water supply to drought prone areas water point rehabilitation, water harvesting and storage technologies and construction of multipurpose dams to retain surface runoff during the rainy season, as nearly 24% of annual rainfall is lost as surface run-off.

The report further recommends delineation of flood prone areas with flood zoning maps and the development of appropriate adaptation strategies and measures as well as strengthening of water policies for integrated watershed management.

Photo credit: Tim Mossholder on Unsplash