Drought in Malawi (IRIN NEWS)

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Severe water shortages in Malawi

Parts of Malawi, including large parts of the northern region, have not received rain since February 2013 and are now experiencing severe water shortages. Women in the affected areas are leaving their homes in the early hours of the morning and walking up to 40 minutes to fetch water from the closest source.

“One will have to be up and on their way to the nearest borehole by midnight if she is to be in a position to get water, because by that time several other people will already have lined up for the same,” said Lucky Chadewa, who lives in Chikwawa in northern Malawi’s Rumphi district.

The water table has dropped as the rainless days have continued and boreholes yield less water or even dry up. The women wait for them to refill rather than return home empty-handed. “It is totally just by luck that one gets… [any] these days because after filling just a few buckets, the borehole stops producing water,” Chadewa told IRIN.

Women often leave their buckets in the queue at the borehole and rush back home so they can get their children ready for school. But when they return they find that their buckets have been pushed to the back of the queue and they may spend the rest of the day waiting to fill them.

Erratic rains

In its latest update, the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) – composed of the government, UN agencies and NGOs – has identified 24 districts across the country that are experiencing critical food shortages as a result of erratic rains. Rumphi is one of three such districts in the northern region. The MVAC update estimates that 1.85 million people will need food assistance until the next expected harvest, in March 2014.


Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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