Towards Securing Water Resources for Sustainability

Water resources significantly influence Malawi’s socioeconomic development. As an agro-based economy, the agriculture sector relies on the availability of water resources, either as rainfall, river flows or groundwater, to support crop and animal production.

Malawi is one of the countries in Southern Africa that wholly relies on hydropower for its electricity needs. As the country embarks on diversification of the economy due to challenges in the agricultural sector, including a general decline in tobacco prices on the world market and climate change, water resources will continue to be relevant in the nation’s industrialisation efforts.

The nation’s dependence on water resources seemed well synchronised with the natural water resources endowment. Malawi has a vast expanse of water systems, including Lake Malawi (Africa’s third largest freshwater lake), Lake Malombe, Lake Chilwa and several rivers. Water systems cover about 21% of the country’s territorial area. In addition to surface water systems (rivers and lakes), there are also widespread groundwater sources. Based on the 2018 census, the National Statistical Office reported that about 67% of the population uses groundwater as drinking water through boreholes and protected wells.

Despite this natural setting, water resources are threatened in the country, as in many other countries worldwide. Some of the critical challenges include rapid population growth, rapid urbanisation, environmental degradation, and climate change.

These challenges have tipped the natural balances and created knock-on effects on the human well-being-environment-health, population-energy-water, food-energy-water nexuses problems. For instance, population growth has increased the use of wood energy resulting in deforestation and environmental degradation, posing severe challenges to water resources. Climate change and variability have affected rainfall patterns and intensity, resulting in floods and droughts. This has also resulted in adverse impacts on agriculture production and other sectors of the economy.

Population growth has increased the use of wood energy resulting in deforestation and environmental degradation, posing severe challenges to water resources.

to enhance sustainability. Such planning demand that the availability of water is predicted both in the short and long term. Such predictions should also be holistic, including surface and groundwater and its interactions and other operations (water resources development and use) within the catchments. Thus, using interdisciplinary science, FAR-LeaF Research Fellow Brighton Chunga of Mzuzu University in Malawi, proposes a futuristic approach by holistically predicting the basin closure of key priority catchments in Malawi.

By predicting the basin closure (i.e., when a catchment will no longer supply water to meet social and environmental needs), the project will produce evidence forming the basis for water allocation by the government through the National Water Resources Authority (NWRA), catchment restoration and protection activities and programmes. The project seeks to answer the following research questions: What are the number of renewable water resources and their demand in hotspot catchments, and when will the catchments or will not be able to supply water to meet the demand based on developments and other impacts such as climate change and degradation; and based on the predicted basin closure, what are the appropriate water allocation measures and catchment restoration plans?

Article submitted by Brighton Chunga


The Future Africa Research Leader Fellowship (FAR-LeaF) is a fellowship programme, focussed on developing transdisciplinary research and leadership skills, to address the complex, inter-linked challenges of health, well-being, and environmental risks in Africa.