M-Climes protecting communities from the effects of extreme weather events and climate change in Malawi

July 22, 2019

Lake Malawi, Malawi’s greatest treasures and a source of pride to all

Famously known as the ‘Lake of Stars’, Lake Malawi is one of Malawi’s greatest treasures and a source of pride to all.  A rich fresh water lake with pristine golden sandy beaches, Lake Malawi is a major source of food, tourism and other economic activities and provides the key source of living to the fishers living along its shores.

Located in the central region, along the shores of the Lake in Salima District, is Lifuwu community, one of the fishing communities in the area.  Fishing is in their blood as the main economic activity for their livelihoods, passed on from one generation to the other. As the sun begins to set for the evening, the shores of Lifuwu are bustling with life. Smaller fishing dugout canoes are being loaded in bigger boats, together with their fishing gears, ready to sail out into the deeper parts of the lake, where they will spend the night, casting their nets for the next big catch.

However, the many effects of climate change and extreme weather events affecting every country across the world, with Malawi amongst the most vulnerable places suffering its adverse impact, has not spared the fishing community of Lifuwu.

With now less fish in the lake, the fishers have become even more desperate, venturing further into deeper waters in search of more fish, and putting their lives at risk from the periodic heavy wind storms, that have claimed many lives and continue to be one of the greatest threats for fishing communities in the country.

Thirty-seven years old Fanny Shaibu is one of the few women and a key member of the Lifuwu fishing community and part of the ‘Beach Village Committee’, a community-based structure that links the fishers to the wider local governance system. One of the Beach Village Committee’s role is to disseminate climate and weather-related information to the fishers, aimed at protecting their lives from the heavy winds and storm.  However, the current weather information and forecasts that Fanny and her fellow members of the committee have to carry to her community of fishers has had several challenges.

“Even though we get weather forecast from the radio and government workers which we then take to the fishers, that information is not specific enough, and does not contain all the information that the fishers look for. We live in a very big area and the forecast is too general and does not specify which areas will be affected by heavy winds, the actual times and how strong the winds are. This makes it difficult for the fishers to rely on this information and not go into the waters since this is their only source of income”, said Fanny.

Boston Chuma,  chairperson for the Lifuwu Beach Village Committee, also explains on the challenges with climate information meant for the fishers in the area. “We need more information on the weather, that helps guide the fishers on when and where to safely go into the waters to avoid the loss of lives. We have lost a few of our brothers over the past years because they did not have the required information”, he said.

In responding to this need to improve climate information and early warning systems to help protect vulnerable communities like Lifuwu, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) partnered with the Government of Malawi, through the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA) to implement a project co-funded by the Green Climate Fund (GCF), a global fund created to support efforts of developing countries to respond to the challenges of climate change.

The project called ‘Scaling up the Use of Modernized Climate Information and Early Warning systems (M-CLIMES)’ is a six-year initiative aimed to help safeguard people’s livelihoods and protect them from extreme weather and other changes in climate.

“The fishing communities along the Lake Malawi are one of the main groups to benefit from the M-Climes Project, with support from the Green Climate Fund. This is one of several interventions where UNDP is working in partnership with the Malawi Government and alongside national and local structures to build the capacity of key actors for weather and climate observation, analysis, forecasting and dissemination of information and warnings to disaster-prone communities in the country. We are making use of strategic and innovative channels like weather and water monitoring technologies, mobile phones, ICT, radio and more importantly scaling up community-based groups to ensure that they provide reliable, timely and accessible data into the hands of people who are most vulnerable and affected by the extreme weather events”, said UNDP’s Portfolio Manager on Resilience and Sustainable Growth, Mr. Andrew Spezowka.

The M-Climes project is one of the several projects that UNDP is implementing to support the Malawi Government with lasting solutions to help create greater resilience for communities at risk of disasters, which is contributing to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals and aligned with Malawi’s national development priorities.

The Director of Risk Reduction within the Department of Disaster Management Affairs Mr. James Chiusiwa explains, “Malawi now has the equipment and ability to scale up climate information and early warning systems to help save lives of the people affected by extreme weather.  The equipment that we have invested in through the M-Climes Project, has improved the accuracy of weather forecasts as compared to what was issued in the past. We are also modernising community-based warning systems to automated ones; which improves the timely accessibility of climate information to communities”.

It has been a year and eight months since the M-Climes project was officially launched in the country to change the course on climate information. Significant gains and achievements are already being felt in the targeted communities, as the project continues its journey to reach 1.6 million farming communities, 60,000 fishing communities and 115,000 flood prone communities in Malawi, helping to reduce poverty and protect lives and livelihoods despite the threats posed by climate change and natural disasters.