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Climate change in Malawi - effects and responses

Last updated: 18.03.2015 // Malawi has become increasingly vulnerable to extreme weather, most recently evidenced by the floods in January. The serious consequences of extreme weather demonstrate why climate change resilience and adaptation are key concerns for Norwegian support. The Royal Norwegian Embassy has written a report depicting the effects and responses to climate change and extreme weather in Malawi.

 

  • Extreme rainfall in early 2015 led to severe floods, particularly in Southern Malawi but also in other parts of the country
  • 84 percent of Malawians depend on natural resources based livelihoods. As a result, many Malawians are highly vulnerable to the changes in temperatures and precipitation that are already taking place
  • The Government of Malawi is implementing various initiatives to adapt to climate change
  • Norway supports several efforts to promote climate resilience and adaptation, in which climate smart agriculture is a key priority

Precipitation in January 2015 was four times higher than average, and caused severe flooding in 15 of the 28 districts in Malawi, affecting more than 1.3 million people. The floods did not only wash away crops and livestock, but also other natural resources such as soil and fish. The most affected districts are low-lying and on riverbanks in the southern part of the country. Several of these areas were identified to be at risk of flood and livelihood insecurity during the 2014/2015 “hunger season”, according to Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC). Last year MVAC projected as many as 20 of Malawi’s districts to be affected by food insecurity and at least 700 000 people to be in need of food assistance during this (present) lean season.

 

 Flooded areas in Nsanje

Flooded fields in Nsansje                                                                                          /Bjarne Garden

 

Malawi has increasingly been exposed to extreme weather conditions in the recent past, seeing six very wet and five very dry summers between 1997 and 2011. The average temperature in the country increased by 0.9°C from 1960 to 2006, showing increases in both maximum and minimum temperatures. The average number of hot days has increased with 30.5, while the average number of hot nights has increased with 41 since 1960, affecting mid-summer the most (December-February). The increasing temperatures in Malawi are consistent with the global trends, as well as the trends in Sub-Saharan Africa, where temperatures are expected to increase by 1°C by 2030.

Climate changes already affect the more than 84 percent of Malawians who depend on rain-fed agriculture and other natural resource based livelihoods. Future scenarios could leave the population at increased risk of hunger and food insecurity, most probably due to droughts. Data on precipitation between 1960 and 2006 indicates that rainfall has decreased in most regions overall. However, increases in rainfall during the highest rainfall months (January and February), in addition to the unpredictability related to both the amount and timing of the rain, are also damaging, as evident by this year’s extreme rainfalls resulting in floods in several districts. Evaporation loss has exacerbated from 1971 to 2000, which became disturbingly visible in 1995 when Malawi’s second largest water body, Lake Chilwa, completely dried up for the second time in the history of the country.

Malawi has been a signatory party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) since 1992 and ratified the convention in 1994. In addition, Malawi signed the Kyoto Protocol in 2001. The Government of Malawi (GoM) has undertaken various measures to fulfil the required obligations of UNFCCC, such as implementing both the Initial National Communication (INC) and the Second National Communication (SNC), signing the National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPA) and initializing a National Adaptation Plan (NAP). GoM recognizes the implications facing Malawi as a developing country vulnerable to drastic climate change. Therefore, the GoM has devoted special attention to this issue in its current National Development Strategy (MGDS II, 2011-2016). More specifically, the MGDS’ primary goal in regards to climate change is to enhance resilience to climate change risks and impacts, which is linked to the achievement of sustainable economic growth. In relation to this, Malawi, with support from Norway and other donors, has implemented a National Climate Change Policy, specifically intended to contribute to the attainment of sustainable development in line with MGDS II. It is expected that this policy will “enhance planning, development and coordination of Climate Change programmes, and also enhance financing of associated activities”.

Norway supported GoM’s development of a National Climate Change Investment Plan (NCCIP) for 2013-2018, to increase and coordinate climate change investments in Malawi. The key priority areas of NCCIP are: adaptation; mitigation; climate change research and systematic observation, technology development and transfer. Norway also supports projects related to a climate smart agriculture in order to build climate resilience, such as field irrigation, efforts to reduce deforestation and diversification of crops. Due to the large number of Malawians dependent on rain-fed agriculture, support to climate smart agriculture – in particular Conservation Agriculture - is a priority for the Embassy.

In addition, Norway supports the CFCS Climate Services Adaptation Programme in Africa led by WMO. The overall goal for this project is to reduce vulnerability to climate change through, among other things, strengthening of climate services and capacity building.  The project is comprised of three sub-components, in which Malawi is a focal country. Furthermore, Norway is supporting other sustainable environment projects, such as the use of fuel-efficient cook stoves. This project is a significant component of the Embassy’s climate change portfolio as it promotes energy efficiency, and thus contributes to reduced deforestation. The number of households using more efficient cook stoves increased from 67 in 2007 to 14.000 in 2012. The increase translates into saving 330 hectares of forest annually. Moreover, the climate change portfolio also funds a renewable energy pilot project that provides solar energy solutions to a community north of Lilongwe.

The Malawian government has indicated need for an integrated National Resilience Plan, an assessment the Embassy fully supports.

Assessment

In light of the challenges Malawi will be facing in the coming years due to a changing climate, highlighted by this year’s flooding, the Embassy will continue having climate change as a priority area both in its development cooperation and its political dialogue, as per current instructions. Malawi has been assessed to be one of the countries in the world that will be the most affected by climate change. Malawi is also a densely populated country that is on UNFAs list of population growth hotspots. The combination of these two factors potentially threaten the very existence of Malawi as a peaceful and stable country with a (largely) positive development.


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