Research Intern, Jindal Centre for the Global South,
O.P. Jindal Global University, India.
One of the major challenges that the world is facing today is climate change. According to the United Nations, “Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns.” The earth’s climate has never been constant, the changes in this pattern are due to both natural and anthropogenic activities. What makes climate change dangerous today is the sharp increase in harmful anthropogenic activities over a few decades. The consequences of climate change will not be distributed equally in the world, some regions will be severely affected, while some will not. In this essay, we are going to look at the case of ‘Malawi- a country in south-eastern Africa- one of the most affected countries in the world, and highly vulnerable to climate change.
What makes Malawi highly vulnerable to climate change?
The population of Malawi stood at 19.65 million in the year 2021 (statisticstimes, 2021).Malawi comes in the top ten poorest countries in the world. The national poverty rate has only slightly declined from 51.5% in 2015-16 to 50.7% in 2019-20. 70% of people live on less than $1.90 per day, which is the international poverty line that determines the threshold of ‘whether someone is living in poverty or not’ (The World Bank, 2022). The Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) report for the 2022/23 consumption season, released in August has revealed that about2.3 million people face food insecurity and require assistance. The GDP of Malawi is mostly dependent on agriculture, with 83% of the population living in rural areas. The country has low life expectancy, which is 65.18 years in 2022 with just a slight increase of 0.68% from the year 2021 (Macrotrends, 2022). High rate of HIV cases and infant mortality rate with 8.6% and 34.327 deaths per live birth respectively in the year 2022 (Macrotrends, 2022). The Deforestation rate is increasing due to population growth in the region, and rising demand for farmland and fuelwood. The country is highly dependent on rainfed agriculture with an overreliance on maize cultivation which is sensitive towards drought. Agriculture supports the livelihoods of 80% population in the country (Climatelinks, 2019). Thus, from the last few years, climate change is affecting rain patterns and contributing to the raising levels of natural calamities. This severe situation is exacerbating the already-existing problems in the country and making it difficult to make development plans for the country. The following pie chart shows the average annual natural hazard occurrence in the country from 1980 to 2020.
Challenges faced by local people
The negative consequences of climate change can be seen in different sectors of the country, which are often interlinked with each other. Sometimes, the changes caused due to climate change may appear small, but they create a bigger effect on several other factors and bring in huge negative changes.
Firstly, as we discussed in the beginning, Malawi depends on rain-fed agriculture. With increasing climate change pattern, it is facing a condition of severe droughts and at the same time, sudden and unpredictable floods during the peak season of cultivation. Changes in temperature and rainfall patterns negatively affects the maize and groundnut production, which are very important crops for the country. Climate change events affect the resilience and adaptive capacity of individuals and communities negatively via declining yields of crops and food security. Floods destroy the agricultural inputs and infrastructure by washing them away. For example, the 2012-213 floods in Karonga and other districts were reported to have damaged water pipe networks and boreholes. According to UNICEF, flood conditions can result in food insecurity with significant impacts on the livelihoods of poor people in rural areas. More than 15 per cent of the population were affected by floods in the 2012-13 rainy season. In addition to the floods, in the last few decades Malawi has experienced droughts during the 1978-79, 1981-82, 1991-92 and 1993-94 crop growing seasons (USAID, 2019). Therefore, Malawi is considered to be highly vulnerable even to the slightest under even temperature increases.
Secondly, these negative changes in agricultural and rain patterns lead to a further destruction of water resources which results in decrease in groundwater-flow, surface water and other waterbodies. Majority of electricity demand in the country has been met by hydropower production. Thus, reduced water resources negatively impact the production of hydropower, especially in Blantyre city, making disruptions in the supply of electricity. Malawi is losing about MKW8.8 billion (approximately, $17.10 million) due to water connected economic losses and these losses are likely to be exacerbated by climate change over the coming decades. (climatelinks, 2019)
Thirdly, Malawi is already a poor country with poor health infrastructure. Climate change is exacerbating the poor health condition of the country. Factors such as decreased levels of agricultural output, contamination, and low levels of water bodies are risking the people’s lives, especially those in coastal and southern areas of the country. Health problems faced by citizens include high rates of malnutrition, infant mortality, HIV, malaria and water-borne diseases. Estimates indicate that over 14 per cent of Malawians between the ages of 15-49 are HIV positive. With a rise in temperature and floods, cases of these diseases further got increased, as diseases such as malaria spread into higher altitudes of the region. There is an evidence of increased cholera cases during the recent climate change-induced droughts in the region, this is due to a high concentration of bacteria at the lower water levels.
Impact of Climate Change on Malawian women
Climate change exacerbates sexual and gender violence in various ways, pushing people further into poverty, creating conflict among the communities over distribution of natural resources, forcing migration, and compounding pre-existing gender discrimination. The study carried out by experts at Glasgow Caledonian University’s Mary Robinson Centre for Climate Justice revealed that as many as 86% of the women surveyed admitted that their mental health and wellbeing had been affected by climate change, compared to just 15% saying the same about their physical health. (GCU, 2022)
Lake Malawi is the third largest lake in the African continent, and it is home to more than thousand species of fish. Fish demand due to population growth, combined with Climate change has reduced the number of fish by almost ninety percent in the last twenty years, affecting more than ten thousand people who make a living off lake Malawi. Many female fish merchants have been pushed into exchanging sex for fish to make a living, as fish became scarce and costly.
Internal migration in Malawi is primarily linked to growing land pressure due to high population growth. Malawi is facing social conflicts arising from the highly unequal access to natural resources and high rural population density. Inequality in land distribution, rural tensions, and land market failures that the country is facing has an adverse impact on the rural poor and on women. The latest gender assessment for the country, carried out by the World Bank, notes that Malawi’s recent gains in gender equality require accelerated momentum in the implementation of existing policies and other additional priorities to help close remaining gaps. (The World Bank, 2022)
Way forward: Development strategies for the future of Malawi
A recent report by World Bank Country Climate and Development shows that Climate change will push another two million people in Malawi into poverty in the next ten years and worsen the country’s development challenges. Yet, another report from World Bank projected that for every three Malawians that moved out of poverty between 2010 and 2019, four fell back in due to the impact of weather shocks. To treat a disease, we must know the origin of the disease, type of virus or bacteria. Similarly, to treat the climate-change induced problems of Malawi, we need to look at the root factors that are driving climate change in recent decades. The government of Malawi inaugurated the Greenhouse Gas Inventory System or GHG-IS to monitor national emissions of all the sectors of the economy. This system helps the government, investors and other intergovernmental organizations by providing them with reliable data on primary sources of emissions, so that they can make targeted interventions and develop suitable sustainable projects which can lower the rate of emissions.
World organizations have been initiating different types of projects and schemes. For example, local communities were taught-with the support of the World Food Programme- controlling the water, flowing from the hills and harvesting them for cultivation of crops. (Thawani, 2018). These programmes are good, but not sufficient!
The president of Malawi, Lazarus Chakwera attended the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt from 6 to 18 November 2022. Upon his arrival, He said his trip to Egypt for the Global Climate Change Summit was fruitful following several investment deals signed that includes US$27.6 million (about K28 billion) by The Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP), to support Malawi in its goals to increase electricity access from 18% to 100% and improve energy security and reliability (AllAfrica, 2022). Thus, parallel to these developments, the domestic and international private sector should involve more, and invest in Malawi to bring in huge changes that can make a roadmap to mitigate climate change and poverty in Malawi.
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author (s). They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Jindal Centre for the Global South or its members.