Monday, December 14, 2015

Water Issues in Malawi

I wrote a post post for the SEED Workshop Blog. SEED stands for Sustainable Environmental Education for Development. SEED is a unique opportunity for young motivated Malawians from all over the country to attend a week long environmental education workshop in Liwonde National Park. To learn more about the SEED Workshop and the Environmental issues Malawians face head over to their blog

“When I was young there was enough water, but now the rain is not falling as it was in past years.” My friend and active community member Jameson is speaking about the water issues in our area. In this area of Northern Malawi the rains last year started late and ended early. The image below illustrates how the rain patterns have been changing; there isn't only just less rain falling every year. 

Jameson lives partway up a mountain, where boreholes cannot be drilled due to the bedrock or the extreme depth to water. Just a few months ago, the Red Cross was trying to place a borehole in Jameson's village. They drilled to 51m in several places before they decided that one could not be placed that far up the mountain side. He and his family have to walk about 1 km to draw water from a shallow well, which is often broken. When the well is broken they have to collect what little water seeps out of a spring adjacent to the well which is often cloudy and full of debris.

In past years there also used to be a perennial steam that flowed down the mountain and joined the river 1 km (0.6 miles) away. In the past Jameson's family used to farm along this stream growing vegetables long into the dry season. Today, this stream is just a trickle during dry season and in the past 20 years has carved a 2 m (6 ft) ravine that doesn't support any farming. Jameson knows that these changes have occurred due to the increased population in the area causing the forest and mountain side to be over-harvested and burned from year to year.
When Jameson was a boy this stream flowed all year providing a source of water closer to his home for agricultural purposes. 20 years later the heavy rains have eroded away 2 meters worth of soil from the stream bed.
Jameson, and many others from his village now have to travel 1 km to the main river to grow food during the dry season, but both this year and last that river is going dry in places. The crops are still growing since the water table is so high but there may become a time when even those will fail.

Jameson and his family. He is a small-scale farmer dependant on the rain to grow enough food for his family for a year.  With the changes in the area, he must travel about 1 kilometer to the flood plain in order to grow food in the dry season.
Jameson and his community have been active in trying to counteract these changes by encouraging people not to burn the forest undergrowth and by starting tree nurseries. In an effort to mitigate these changes even more Jameson was open to creating a permagarden at his house. A permagarden is a small heavily amended garden that stores water in the soil lessening the need of bringing in water specifically for the garden. Waste water from bathing, washing clothes, and washing dishes should provide enough water through the dry season.

At the SEED Workshop participants learn how to manage water in a sustainable way in order to grow more food year round closer to the home.

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