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Lake Profile

Chilwa (Shilwa)

General Information

Description Chilwa is a shallow lake that lies at the southern end of the Great Rift Valley. The 2,000 people who live on Chisi and Thongwe islands in Lake Chilwa make up one of the most isolated communities in the world. Most people build their houses on reed rafts on the water. Only a handful of the inhabitants have been to the mainland.
Country Malawi
Latitude -15° 20' 0" (-15.3333)
Longitude -35° 43' 0" (-35.7167)


 Africa Lake Biodiversity Conservation Priorities 2003

Physical Characteristics

Description The lake is a "closed" lake which means it has no outflowing stream. At one time the lake may have been three times as large and connected to the Indian Ocean via a river. The northern shoreline of the lake is made up of a vast area of swampy vegetation.
Surface Area 1,300.00 km2
Type Saline


Economic Value Lake Chilwa is both the community's most important source of protein, and a source of pervasive cholera, since the lake is used for drinking, washing and for sewage disposal. Recently (2002) many people have migrated to the lake in search of food and water, due to the severe drought in many parts of Africa. This has put extra stress on the lake's resources.
Major Cities

Watershed Management

Watershed Action Plan Yes
Specific Contaminants Pathogens

Biodiversity Conservation

Designations LakeNet Biodiversity Priority
Ramsar Site
Species of Concern



Biodiversity Conservation of the World's Lakes: A Preliminary Framework for Identifying Priorities
ILEC Database
Lake Chilwa Management Feature
Limnology in Developing Countries Volume 2


7/23/2002 - IUCN studies traditional approaches to waterbird management at Lake Chilwa where 1.2 million birds are trapped yearly
12/18/2000 - Lake Chilwa environmental festival unveils buried talent
10/31/2000 - Malawi's "lost tribe"
6/3/2000 - Danish grant for reclamation of silted Lake Chilwa
6/28/1999 - Campaign to rehabilitate Lake Chilwa underway

Additional Data Sources

Birkett, C., and I. Mason. 1995. A new global lakes database for remote sensing programme studying climatically sensitive large lakes. Journal of Great Lakes Research, 21 (3) 307-318.
Duker, L. and L. Borre. 2001. Biodiversity conservation of the world's lakes: a preliminary framework for identifying priorities. LakeNet Report Series Number 2. Annapolis, Maryland USA.
International Lake Environment Committee, the United Nations Environment Program and Environment Agency, Government of Japan. 1997. World Lakes Database.

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