Watching Lake Malawi Run Dry

There was a time when the vast Lake Chilwa almost disappeared. In 2012 it had been extremely hot in southern Malawi, with little rain to fill the rivers that ran into the lake. Friday Njaya, Malawi’s assistant director of fisheries, says that as water levels vary by season, the lake can cover more than 2,000 sq km during the rains. But recent years have seen it contract to less than 1,200 sq km. In 2018 the lake shrank by about 60%, forcing most of those fishing on it to relocate to Lake Malawi to sustain themselves. There are fears that the trend could be repeated this year as the Lake Chilwa basin received less than 1,000mm of rain this season. The lake requires more than a metre of rain across the basin every year to sustain water levels. The unreliable rainfall patterns are, according to experts, the result of human activity, especially deforestation, which plays such a critical role in environmental degradation and the climate crisis. Prof Sosten Chiotha, regional director at Leadership for Environment and Development Southern and Eastern Africa, says the lake is drying out more frequently as the climate crisis causes more extreme weather. “If you compare the previous drying-out years, it was 2018, before that it was 2012, 1996, and 1973 or thereabouts – before that, it was in the 1940s. It was a 25 to 40-year natural drying cycle. But now, recession of Lake Chilwa happens every three to five years.”

SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN

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