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Oxfam Southern Africa Climate Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction (Malawi)

Submitted by Michael Rastall 2nd April 2014 11:02

People digging sand from a river in Malawi to earn an income

Project description

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.

Key findings

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 more flood events. Also, the timing of the onset of the rainy season and the ending of the season has changed. A community outside Lilongwe explained how they used to receive rain between October or November and April, whereas now they are experiencing more years where they only receive rain between December and February. Even compared with 10 years ago people see the situation as being worse now, linking changes in climate to deforestation, soil infertility and growth in the local population. This causal linkage between climate change and deforestation is based on anecdotal evidence. There is some scientific evidence to suggest that large scale deforestation leads to changes in local and regional climate (particularly relative humidity and temperature), affecting rates of evaporation and extent of cloud formation (and thereby rainfall), but more research 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 rainfall lead to crop failure, causing a local food insufficiency. People have to spend the little capital they have on purchasing food and this places strain on local businesses as the money in circulation decreases. Many men in the rural areas move into charcoal production as an alternative livelihood strategy. This however comes with a whole set of problems associated with deforestation, including decreased water retention, soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, etc. It also leaves women having to take on more responsibilities in the fields. People, mainly in urban and peri-urban areas, look to take on casual work as a source of income and in times of severe food insecurity women resort to sex for food transactions, which dramatically increases the spread of HIV and ultimately 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 children have to walk long distances to alternative sources, which are often unprotected wells or rivers. Water drawn from these secondary sources is often contaminated and there are outbreaks of water borne diseases. This is also the case in times of floods. Some even make a connection between the occurrence of these diseases and an increase in the spread of HIV as people visit traditional doctors for remedies for diarrhoea, dysentery or cholera and to administer the ointment the traditional healer makes small cuts in the patient’s skin, with an unsanitised blade. The lack of reliable nearby water sources also means that communities are for the most part unable to practice any irrigated agriculture and winter cropping.

Links to disaster risk reduction

  • In Malawi, disaster risk reduction is still a relatively new concept so there is no existing policy related to it. There is an outdated Act relating to disasters.