Danish grant for reclamation of silted Lake Chilwa
Saturday, June 03, 2000
Panafrican News Agency
June 3, 2000
Posted to the web June 3, 2000
BLANTYRE, Malawi (PANA)
The Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) has committed at least 1.4 million dollars to reclaim Malawi's second largest lake.
Lake Chilwa's 10,426 square kilometres of wetland and catchment area is fast dwindling.
Situated in the country's former British colonial capital of Zomba, some 68 km from the commercial city of Blantyre, the lake has over the years been devastated through environmental degradation.
According to project proposals, the Danish grant will be spent on a plan devised to boost the catchment area's natural resources and create a sustainable resource management awareness among 60,000 people living in the neighbourhood.
Lake Chilwa, an inland drainage lake, spreads over 2,047 sq. km of wetland of which 143-sq. km is a rice paddy field. The catchment lies in a scenic flat land of some 8,349 sq. km.
The lake's attractiveness started to dwindle after the departure of colonial families who used to bask on its shores and independent Malawi transferred its administrative capital to Lilongwe.
Thereafter, uncontrolled habitation and cultivation around the catchment area started eating away the shallow lake which is about five metres at its deepest point.
It is home to a dozen fish species. In the past fish catches from the lake amounted to some 17,000 tonnes a year, giving local fishermen an estimated income of between 1.8 million and 3.4 million dollars.
The lake is also a bird sanctuary, boasting a total of 161 localised species and 41 migrant ones. At one time, according to statistics provided by the environmental affairs ministry, the bird population around the area reached 350,000.
Uncontrolled fishing and cultivation activities around the catchment area since the 1970s have silted the wetland and made the lake's water unsuitable to either human use or aquatic life.
Agro-chemical pollution has killed some of the fish and rendered the surviving stock unfit for human consumption.
In addition to pollution, Lake Chilwa has been invaded by dangerous exotic plant species like mesquite and water hyacinth that spread over the water surface, blocking sunlight and air.
Thanks to the Danish funding, an inter-ministerial effort involving experts in tourism, fisheries, agriculture and environmental affairs, is seeking to bring back into existence the lost attractiveness of Lake Chilwa.
The initiative seeks to ensure sustainable resource utilisation and tourism promotion. Malawi government will work to increase capacity for wetland and natural resources management among district personnel, extension staff and communities in the lakeside districts.
Tourism experts believe that Malawi is rich in natural resources which it could exploit to compliment dwindling foreign exchange earnings from agricultural commodities.
These include Zomba plateau and its babbling brooks as well as other sites on Lake Malawi.
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