Oxfam Southern Africa Climate Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction (Malawi)
People digging sand from a river in Malawi to earn an income
SEI’s work is informing Oxfam’s regional strategy for mainstreaming climate considerations into their programming for poverty reduction.
SEI also worked at the local level to understand perceptions of risk and existing responses to climate stressors through a gender lens, and mapped the institutional landscape at the national level to identify government, donor and NGO activities on climate change and disaster risk reduction, with a view to Oxfam’s engagement. We reviewed the climate science for the region, focusing on Malawi.
Local understanding of climate variability and change
- In Malawi, people have noticed a clear trend of declining rainfall, and a consequent increase in the frequency of food insecurity, across recent generations. Communities have observed that rains are coming in more intense events, with the same volume of rain said to fall now over a shorted time than previously, which is associated with moreflood events. Also, the timing of the onset of the rainy season and the ending of theseason has changed. A community outside Lilongwe explained how they used to receiverain between October or November and April, whereas now they are experiencing moreyears where they only receive rain between December and February. Even comparedwith 10 years ago people see the situation as being worse now, linking changes inclimate to deforestation, soil infertility and growth in the local population. This causallinkage between climate change and deforestation is based on anecdotal evidence. Thereis some scientific evidence to suggest that large scale deforestation leads to changes inlocal and regional climate (particularly relative humidity and temperature), affectingrates of evaporation and extent of cloud formation (and thereby rainfall), but moreresearch is needed to explore this in the case of Malawi.
Linking climate and livelihood
- In Malawi, communities speak of how years of low rainfall and/or untimely rainfalllead to crop failure, causing a local food insufficiency. People have to spend the littlecapital they have on purchasing food and this places strain on local businesses as themoney in circulation decreases. Many men in the rural areas move into charcoalproduction as an alternative livelihood strategy. This however comes with a whole set ofproblems associated with deforestation, including decreased water retention, soilerosion, loss of biodiversity, etc. It also leaves women having to take on moreresponsibilities in the fields. People, mainly in urban and peri-urban areas, look to takeon casual work as a source of income and in times of severe food insecurity womenresort to sex for food transactions, which dramatically increases the spread of HIV andultimately leads to more orphans that the community struggle to adequately support.Drought years lead to water shortages as local sources dry up and women and childrenhave to walk long distances to alternative sources, which are often unprotected wells orrivers. Water drawn from these secondary sources is often contaminated and there areoutbreaks of water borne diseases. This is also the case in times of floods. Some evenmake a connection between the occurrence of these diseases and an increase in thespread of HIV as people visit traditional doctors for remedies for diarrhoea, dysenteryor cholera and to administer the ointment the traditional healer makes small cuts in thepatient’s skin, with an unsanitised blade. The lack of reliable nearby water sources alsomeans that communities are for the most part unable to practice any irrigatedagriculture and winter cropping.
Links to disaster risk reduction
- In Malawi, disaster risk reduction is still a relatively new concept so there is no existingpolicy related to it. There is an outdated Act relating todisasters.