By switching to dark mode you can reduce the energy consumption of our digital service.

Stakeholder-Based Development Planning of the Shire River Basin’s Water and Natural Resources in Southern Malawi

The aim of the Shire River Basin Management Programme is to increase sustainable social, economic and environmental benefits by planning, developing and managing the basin’s natural resources.
Education tools for rural flood risk in Malawi

Key Messages

  • Regulatory structures of water resources are challenging, it is important to integrate local knowledge and technical knowledge and understand key players in the community.
  • Guidelines and eductation tools led to greater understanding on the effects of flooding and how to manage them.


This case study is from theFRACTAL Adaptation Inspiration Book– this link provides a summary of the book, the other case studies and a downloadable pdf.

The key focus of the Shire River Basin Management Programme is to increase sustainable social, economic and environmental benefits by effectively and collaboratively planning, developing and managing the basin’s natural resources.

Phase One of the Shire River Basin Management Programme Phase was implemented by the Government of Malawi, and supported by the World Bank and the Global Fund for the Environment. It aims to transform the now largely sectoral planning approaches in the Shire River Basin into inclusive, stakeholder-based development planning and management of the basin’s water and related natural resources to generate sustainable social, economic and environmental benefits (World Bank, 2016).

The FRACTAL Adaptation Inspiration Book contains a variety of case studies which are related to this case study, examining adaptation of infrastructure, settlements and waste management. The related articles can be found here:

Climate Risks and Other Stressors

Floods and prolonged dry spells are recurrent phenomena in Malawi. The Department of Disaster Management Affairs recorded 23 major flood events in the 29 years between 1979 and 2008. These floods affected an estimated 1.9 million people (UN Economic Commission for Africa, 2015) through loss of life, damage of public infrastructure and private homes, crop loss and consequential food insecurity, and impacts on public health through the increased occurrence of diarrhoea and malaria, and outbreaks of cholera.

Such disasters appear to be increasing in intensity and frequency. The number of people affected by such disasters also appears to be increasing – a trend that can be attributed mainly to population growth and environmental degradation.

According to a flood damage assessment, the main direct losses from flooding include damage to homes, local infrastructure, and agricultural crops.

Population is also a concern – according to Malawi’s vision 2020, the country has a very high population growth rate with a fertility rate of 6.7%. Coupled with the search of income earning opportunities for this rapidly increasing number of people, this has led to migration from rural to urban areas and exacerbated the problem of unplanned settlements and squatters (Malawi SDNP, 2003). Consequently, the country needs to adapt to a growing number of urbanised settlements and the ever-present risk of flooding.

Adaptation Approach

Key activities of the project included:

  • Development of national guidelines for community-based flood risk management;

  • Facilitating the planning and implementation of flood mitigation and adaptation measures;

  • Supporting the roll-out and connectivity of a basin-wide flood forecasting and early warning system at the community level;

  • Improving the capability to provide early warnings for and emergency response to flooding by securing for and providing equipment to and strengthening the capacity of the civil protection committees at district, area and community levels (Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, 2016).

A suite of enabling activities relating to stakeholder engagement and participation as well as capacity development and communication supports the key activities.

The village of Mitware was used as a positive example of catchment management during the training courses. In return, Aurecon sponsored a tree-planting workshop in this village as a way of thanking the villagers for their cooperation.

Links to SDGs

Preparation of National Integrated Catchment Management and Rural Infrastructure Development Guidelines assisted with Malawi’s journey towards SDGs 2, 3, 9, 10, 11, 13, 15. This project is highly community centred. The guidelines address a host of concerns for rural Malawians from food security (Goal 2), ensuring a healthy and happy lifestyle and home (Goal 3), improving local infrastructure (Goal 9), improving education and poverty cycles linked to natural disasters in poor rural areas (Goal 10), as well as through addressing Goal 13 and Goal 15 ensuring climate resilient and sustainable towns, human development and ecosystem protection and enhancement.


  • Effective integration of local and technical knowledge
  • Gaining leverage with the affected communities
  • Understanding the rolse of key players in the community

Challenges related to the broader regulatory framework:

  • The National Water Resources Act, enacted in 2013, established Catchment Management Committees, but not the basin organization;

  • The catchment committees’ functions, as reflected in the act, do not match with the standard functions of the river basin organization;

  • Establishing the Shire River Basin Agency as a regional office for the National Water Resource Act proved difficult because the agency does not have the regulatory mandate.


  • These guidelines address a host of concerns for rural Malawians: food security, ensuring a healthy and happy lifestyle and home, improving ecological and local infrastructure, improving education, halting poverty cycles linked to natural disasters in poor rural areas, ensuring sustainable towns, enhancing human development, and improving ecological protection.

  • The guidelines led to a greater understanding on how to manage flooding at a subsistence level, and to increasing levels of education about flooding and its effects;

  • The guidelines provide a framework for local and larger-scale, hard infrastructure and ecological infrastructure;

  • The information presented in these guidelines empowers subsistence communities, and assists NGOs, governments and people to become more educated and able to adapt to climate change (Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, 2016).

Lessons Learnt

The regulatory structure of the water resources proved challenging. Lack of legal provisions in the 2013 water resources legislation led to hampering of the establishment of Shire River Basin Agency. As a result, the Agency was established as a prototype organisation on the premise of learning by doing. The Shire River Basin Management Programme took responsibility for managing the Shire River Basin Agency because of its mandate described above.

Add your project

Exchange your climate change adaptation projects and lessons learned with the global community.