Chapter 4: Envirnmental Issues

Envirnmental Issues

4.1. Methodology for analysing environmental degradation in Malawi

The objectives of the NEAP are described in Chapter 1. Through the NEAP process, environmental degradation in Malawi has been analyzed and environmental issues identified with a view to establish a framework for specific actions to address environmental problems. These actions are presented in Chapter 5.

Identification of environmental issues was done by reading through the 18 NEAP task force reports (see Chapter 2). In these reports a wide range of environmental problems are described and analyzed. To get an overview of all environmental issues, the task force reports were analyzed to identify problems and causes in each report. Another source of data was a series of eight consultative district workshops on the environment. The definition of an environmental issue was rather broad, including both problems, factors, consequences and causes. These environmental issues were categorized and grouped together, and linkages between issues established through flow-charts, as shown in Figures 4.1 and 4.2. Using these flow charts a model was developed, illustrating environmental degradation in Malawi (see Figure 4.3). Through this model the following nine key environmental issues were identified, which are further described in section 4.3. of this chapter:

a. Soil erosion; 
b. Deforestation; 
c. water resources degradation and depletion; 
d. Threat to fish resources; 
e. Threat to biodiversity; 
f. Human habitat degradation; 
g. High population growth; 
h. Air pollution; 
i. Climatic change.
The flow charts (Figures 4.1 and 4.2) show that the causal chains for environmental and natural resource degradation are very complex and intertwined such that one set of issues may often being causes of other issues. The analysis also revealed that there is one set of causal factors which are common to all key environmental issues and these constitute the nexus of population growth, poverty, illiteracy and lack of environmental information and awareness. This nexus is discussed in section 4.2, before each individual Key Environmental Issues is presented in section 4.3.

4.2 The nexus of population growth, poverty, illiteracy and lack of environmental information and awareness.

As indicated before, Malawi is among the poorest countries in the world whose per capita GDP was MK 991 (US$ 225) in 1993 and about 60% of its population was below the poverty line of US$ 40 per capita per year. Its population growth of 3.2% is high and so is the illiteracy rate above 50%, the latter contributes to the lack of environmental awareness. The land resource is threatened by the demand placed on it by the very poor who, because of low literacy, have little access to information on sustainable agricultural practices. This nexus of population growth, poverty and illiteracy has led to a sub-optimal and unsustainable resource utilisation. The poor, being the most affected, have heavily discounted future income and pursue sub-optimal social consumption decisions, leading to environmental degradation.

This nexus and its negative implications on the development of the country, represents enormous challenges, which the Government is trying to address. Unfortunately, inadequacies in development policies as well as in the legislation and its enforcement have made it more difficult to counteract the negative consequences on the environment. Over-reliance on agriculture as a main engine of economic growth and inadequate development in the industrial and service sectors have promoted agricultural expansion with land use that has progressively deviated from suitable use at the present level of technology (i.e. "traditional management"). The consequence of this is that an increasing proportion of the total cultivated land is exposed to degradation. Of the 4.6 million hectares of cultivated land, only 2.95 million hectares are suitable for agriculture under traditional management while the difference is marginal and unsuitable. This has been further exacerbated by other short-comings such as inadequate distribution and access to fertilizers as well as on a pricing policy where the incentive framework for adoption of soil conservation technology have been undermined.

The combinations of the nexus and the inadequacies have brought about unsustainable resource utilisation and improper land use and waste management. The effects have been resource depletion, deforestation, overgrazing, land scarcity, agricultural expansion and contamination (Figure 4.3) which have brought about the key environmental issues analyzed in section 4.3.

4.3 Key environmental issues

4.3.1 Soil erosion Extent of soil erosion

Soil erosion is one of the major types of land degradation that poses biggest threat to sustainable agricultural production and also leads to contamination of water resources. Although no comprehensive studies have been conducted, results from spot trials of soil erosion under various cover and farming practices have shown that soil loss ranges from 0 to 50t/ha/year (Amphlett, 1986; Kasambara, 1984; Machira, 1984). An erosion hazard map of Malawi as compiled by Khonje and Machira (1987) shows the highest estimated soil loss to be 50t/ha/year (Map 5).

The World Bank (1992) estimated soil loss and calculated its impact on yield. The results are shown in Table 4.1 and Map 6. Soil loss ranges from 13t/ha/year in Machinga ADD to 29t/ha/year in Karonga and Blantyre ADDs. For the main agricultural areas in Malawi, Kasungu and Lilongwe ADDs, the soil loss was 20 and 22t/ha/year respectively. The national average was estimated to be 20t/ha/year. Taking into consideration different assumptions, the World Bank estimates that the above soil loss leads to a mean yield loss of between 4 and 11% for Malawi as a whole thus translating to economic value or mean annual income loss of between MK10 and MK29 per hectare. These estimated soil losses are higher than what Amphlett (1986) found for the Bvumbwe area where he reported soil losses for traditional level of management to be in the range of 4 to 14t/ha/year. However, it will be noted that Amphlett's results are localized and cannot be over-extrapolated to represent soil erosion rates for the country. On the other hand, the World Bank based estimation on reconnaissance erosion hazard map (Khonje and Machira 1987), land use maps for Malawi, available arable land and other government reports, which detailed the amount of uncultivable dambos, swamps, floodplains and steep slopes (World Bank, 1992). There is need for confirming these figures through research. Social cost of soil erosion

Soil erosion has 'on-site' and 'off-site' costs. The first include declining soil fertility and loss in crop yield. The second refers to sedimentation and siltation of rivers and reservoirs. Fertile low-lying areas may become unproductive due to the deposition of infertile sand. In this section only on-site costs are considered.

Preliminary analysis shows that the social cost associated with soil erosion is MK1, 155 million (US$165 million) which corresponds to 8.1% of the countryman GDP in 1994.The cost was arrived at by taking into account the relation between soil erosion rates and productivity and discounting production loss over a ten year period at 10% discount rate to bring the loss to the net present value in order to capture the cumulative effects of soil erosion. Institutional and legislation constraints

Land resource degradation in general and soil erosion in particular is also attributed to institutional and legal constraints and these include:

(a) Ill-defined, insecure and unenforceable property rights leading to open access exploitation of any land for agricultural purpose. 

(b) Limited information about the costs of degradation and the benefits of conservations causing greater uncertainty about the impact of the resource allocation decision.

(c) Lack of access to credit for soil conservation investments and fertilizers encourage soil-degrading practices by the majority of smallholders. Inter-generational subdivision of holdings and expansion into marginal and unsuitable land is characteristic of such farmers.

(d) Inadequacies in agricultural extension due to shortages of staff and logistical support.

(e) Informal tenancies in tobacco estates.

4.3.2 Deforestation Extent of deforestation

The rapid expansion of agriculture from mid-1970's to the late 1980's, led to extensive deforestation. During that period the rate of deforestation was 3.5% per annum. At the moment however, the rate of deforestation has declined to 1.6% because there is not much arable land left to be deforested. Regional variation in deforestation is conspicuous; 2.5% in the north, 2.2% in the centre and 0.14% in the south (Eschweiler, 1993). Causes of deforestation

The major causes of deforestation are agricultural expansion, followed by wood fuel demands from households and other sources. The latter include tobacco leaf-curing, brick burning, fish curing and beer brewing. While the demands for wood energy from these diverse sources keep rising, sustainable supply of wood progressively lags behind, leading to deforestation in the Southern and Central regions. Most of the tobacco estates have failed to comply with the obligatory establishment of a wood-lot on 10% of the estate's area. Most of the fuelwood for tobacco leaf curing is from indigenous forests, including those under customary tenure. Government's failure to enforce the obligatory woodlot provision has encouraged estates to externalize private costs by deforestation. Other woodfuel-using industries are not even subject to any legal obligation to have their own woodlots or contribute in other ways to increase the national area under woodlands. The lack of functional communal institutions to protect and manage customary forests is a major cause of their depletion.

Infrastructure development, particularly road and settlement establishments can lead to deforestation. Woodfuel extraction and charcoal making for domestic, commercial and industrial use, contribute to deforestation too, but it is difficult to quantify the level of deforestation attributed to this segment. Social cost of deforestation

Deforestation generates externalities that raise social costs and adversely affect social welfare in various ways (see sections 4.3.1, 4.3.3 and 4.3.5). The social costs of deforestation arise from increased use of forest products and increased incidence of soil erosion due to loss of tree cover. The former wan estimated by the replacement values of wood harvested above the sustainable yield, while the latter was estimated by the reduced crop yield as a result of soil erosion. The cost of deforestation was estimated at MK385 million (US$55 million), which is about 2.7% of the GDP in 1994. Productivity of forests

The productivity of indigenous forest is generally low; 0.8, 1.2 and 1.0 m3 per hectare per year for forests on customary land, forest reserves and national parks and game reserves, respectively. Productivity of agro-forestry systems is estimated at 0.9 m3 per hectare per year while productivity of fuelwood plantation averages 14.0 m3 per hectare per year, although productivity rates as high as; 40.0 cubic meters per hectare per year have been recorded in Mulanje (Forestry Department, 1993). The low productivity of indigenous forests implies that at current levels of bio-energy demands, harvest rates exceed sustainable yields. Woodfuel demand

The World Bank (1992) estimated that the total woodfuel requirement in 1990 was 7.1 million cubic metres and the projection for the year 2000 was 8.7 million cubic metres. However, total wood demand for 1990 and l9gl was put at 8.5 and 10.5 million cubic metres respectively.

The Department of Forestry estimated that woodfuel deficit from 1983 to 1990 rose from 1.6 to 4.9 million cubic metres and the projected figures by the Department of Forestry for 1995 and 2000 are 7.6 and 7.8 million cubic metres respectively. The upward trend of woodfuel deficit indicates that the current afforestation programmes have not yet made significant impact. Institutional and legal constraints

The Forestry Sector is governed by the Forest Act, (Cap:63:01) which is currently under review. However, one important feature about the present Forest Act is that forest reserves created on either customary or public land are the most strictly regulated. Land which is either public or customary, but not reserved, is subject to less control. Even more serious is the fact that private land is not subject to the Act. Although the Land Act lease stipulates that 10% of all leased land for agricultural purposes must be devoted to forest cover, enforcement of this covenant is outside the mandate of the Department of Forestry. Further, this covenant does not cover freehold land which is another category of private land. The Act does not properly relate to other acts such as the Electricity Act and Telecommunications Act administered by different organisations. However, the current Forest Act review should resolve these weaknesses to improve its effectiveness and efficiency.

In addition, ill-defined, insecure and unenforceable property rights and limited information about the costs of degradation apply here too. Equally important are:

(a) Weakness of local level management institutions. This was caused by erosion of the authority and legitimacy of traditional leaders and undermined their valuable role in natural resource management. Worse still, past policies failed to provide viable alternatives to local institutions.

(b) Deficiencies in the DOF due to shortage of staff and other logistic problems.

(c) Lack of effective coordination at the local level in natural resource management between the DOF and Department of Agricultural Extension and Training (DAET).

(d) Property Rights: due to non existence of social rules governing exploitation of indigenous woodlands, the woodlands have been exploited as an open access resource. Consumers have no incentive to manage the resources on a sustainable basis beneficial to the whole community. Instead they seek to maximize short-term benefits which lead to deforestation.

(e) Access to Information: There is limited access by smallholders to information regarding appropriate silvicultural management, particularly in the area of seedling production and tree planting. This is due to staffing, logistical and budgetary constraints in the Extension Services in the DOF, as well as policies that favour exotic trees.

4.3.3 Water resources degradation and depletion

At present Malawi faces no serious problem of excessive abstraction of water resources, given the abundant supply of surface and ground water in relation to domestic, agricultural, commercial, and industrial use. However, the abundant water resources of Malawi are slowly but steadily getting degraded due to a number of factors as shown in Figure 4.2. Water resource degradation reduces both the quantity and quality of water supply. Sedimentation (siltation)

The rapid population growth in the country has exerted great pressure on the land resource, promoting soil erosion and deforestation, as described in detail in section 4.3.1 and 4.3.2, respectively.

Silt loads surface water run-off lead to significant problems in downstream water quality, such as increased suspended solids and turbidity, water treatment costs and water flow problems. During the rainy season virtually all rivers carry heavy loads of sediments. The turbid water is not good for human consumption. The majority of people in rural communities depend on untreated river water supply and chances of drinking unclean water are therefore very high. Many of Malawi's principal rivers used for abstraction of potable water are carrying suspended solid loads in excess of WHO guidelines, as shown in Table 4.2.

Case studies show that catchment areas with high deforestation-rates have higher rates of discharge, which in turn lead to increased levels of turbidity and suspended solids.

High sediment loads in the rivers bring about siltation of rivers and water reservoirs. The silted river course and water reservoirs tend to have reduced capacities so that when it rains the banks may overflow, causing flooding at times; or the water erodes the banks in order to accommodate the increased volume of run-off. The intake point for Nkula Hydro-electrical Power Reservoir, for instance, is frequently dredged for this reason. The effects of sedimentation on the fish resources are addressed in section 4.3.4.

Sediments are involved in nutrients cycle in a water body by releasing nutrients into the water column, which may cause eutrophication, particularly in shallow water bodies. Biological contamination

Biological contamination of water resources arises from unplanned settlements and associated poor sanitary conditions, as well as improper disposal of waste, as further discussed in section 4.3.6. Many human settlements are established in river catchment areas and because many households either do not have latrines or the pit latrines are sited near water sources, the faecal material contaminates the surface water while the sludge in pit latrines may contaminate the groundwater resources. There is also discharge of inadequately treated sewage from some institutions into rivers and streams. Lack of authority to control sanitary installations and of maintenance of sewer reticulation network have led to overflow of septic tanks and sewers. Livestock, also, contaminate Surface water. Run-off from improperly located waste disposals also contributes to biological contamination of water resources.

As 50% of all illness in Malawi is attributed to water borne diseases (UNDP 1986) and 35% of the population does not have access to safe water at home, biological contamination from human beings is a very serious concern. Malawi's National Water Resources Master Plan states that as a result of inadequate sanitation facilities and other sources of organic pollution, the bacteriological quality of the major rivers is poor throughout the year. Three-quarters of rivers show faecal coliform counts in excess of 500 per 100 ml in dry season, which is dangerously above WHO guidelines of zero faecal coliform. In the wet season the situation in considerably worse because of surface run-off  that brings more contaminants into the rivers. Chemical contamination

Chemical inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides are important in order to raise agricultural productivity, both in the estate sector and the smallholder sector. However, given the limited adoption of physical land conservation structures, run-off of agrochemical, depending on their chemical composition, may add nutrients or poisons to the aquatic environment. Eutrophication of water bodies and the growth of water weeds, some of which may be noxious, threaten fish resources in several reservoirs in the Southern and Central Regions. Furthermore, poisonous agrochemicals have caused death of fish in rivers and are a serious threat to human health.

Chemical contamination of stream water in the pert-urban areas is becoming a common problem due to improper disposal of industrial waste. In the cities improper use and poor sewer maintenance coupled with lack of spare parts often result in overflowing of sewers containing untreated industrial effluent and hazardous chemicals (refer to section 4.3.6 for details). Social cost of water degradation and depletion

Given the extent of water pollution and lack of sanitation as highlighted above, it is quite clear that the situation has socio-economic cost implications. In social terms pollution, particularly faecal contamination, has contributed to the spread of water borne diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid and bilharzia which are leading causes of high morbidity and mortality rates in Malawi. The effects have been severe economic costs for the country in terms of treatment costs, underdevelopment of human resources, low labour productivity and pervasive poverty.

The total costs in 1994 associated with water degradation was estimated to be MK105 million (US$15 million). The total number of reported deaths due to the diseases mentioned above is 850 annually (World Health Organization, 1994). These figures are an underestimate since they only account for the reported cases in hospitals and health centres and ignore all costs of diarrhoeal bouts on adults and children above s years of age. Institutional and legal constraints for water resources

The government's policy is to provide clean potable water to all people so as to reduce the incidence of water borne diseases and the time devoted by individuals particularly women to water collection.

The Water Resources Act (Cap 72:03) and other acts pertaining to use of water for different purpose have been found inadequate in that they not cover all the relevant issues related to water resources management, especially concerning taking punitive measures against those who cause substantial water pollution by discharge of effluent. The Water Resources Act is under review to remove such deficiencies.

4.3.4 Threats to fish resources

Although there is no overall assessment of the current status of exploitation or level of depletion of fish resources, new trends, especially in artisanal fisheries, show a large and widespread increase in fishing efforts but declining catch rates. This scenario has led to increased use of inappropriate fishing methods. Increasing agricultural pressure from the growing population within the catchment areas and subsequent land degradation have led to drainage of nutrients and sediment loads into the lakes and rivers resulting in a decline in the population of endemic anadromous fish whose habitats and spawning grounds have been lost. Over-fishing is also a response to the demand by the rising population. If these threats are not controlled, they will inevitably seriously undermine these important nutrition and income generating resources. Over fishing

Over fishing causes a reduction in size and age of catch, and alters the genetic structure of the stock and this is the care with the chambo, utaka and other small cichlid species. Lake Malombe provides clear manifestation of risks associated with over fishing because fish production in this lake has dropped from 10,000 tones per annum in 1986 to present (1994) 200 to 300 tons per year. This dramatic decrease is a result of doubling in the number of fishermen over the last decade. The practice of lining nets with mosquito netting exacerbated the situation because juveniles caught by the netting will not be able to breed in the next generation. Non-compliance with "off-season" regulations means that fish in breeding stage are removed, again affecting the output of fish for the next generation.

There is no conclusive data on the actual level of depletion of the fish resources in the other lakes. But the same dramatic decline in catch that has occurred in Lake Malombe is beginning to show up in other lakes including Lake Malawi. This calls for urgent measures to be taken to protect the sustainability of the resource; otherwise this important nutrition and income generating sources could be irreparably damaged.

In summary, the main factors contributing to over fishing are as follows:

(a) increasing number of fishermen;
(b) non-compliance with "off-season" regulations;
(c) inappropriate fishing methods such as:
(i) nets with small mesh size and use of mosquito netting,
(ii) dynamite fishing,
(iii) fish poisoning,
(iv) fish traps at river outlets,
(v) fishing by blocking rivers, 
(vi) fishing at breeding grounds, 
(vii) fishing during breeding seasons. Degradation of ecological niches and destruction of breeding areas.

Depletion of fish resources is known to occur both in rivers and lakes.  However, most affected are lake fish which are among river breeders. The most dramatic case, demonstrating this trend, has been that of the Ntchila which in the 1950s was the major commercial species in Malawi, but is now threatened with extinction. Similarly, gravel spawners and grass spawners are also suffering from losses of spawning habitats. The main factors contributing to the decline of this type of fishery are:

(a) reduction in water flows and increased sedimentation because of agricultural and deforestation activities as described in sections 4.3.1 and 4.3.2;
(b) water pollution because of human waste, agricultural waste sad runoff and industrial waste as described in section 4.3.6;
(c) prevention of fish migration in rivers because of weir constructions and other obstructions to breeding areas.
In addition the introduction of non-indigenous fish and water weeds is an increasing threat. This is why the culture of carp in fish ponds has been stopped in preference to indigenous species. Social cost of fishery resource depletion

The socio-economic cost associated with depletion of fish resources is quite significant. The dramatic decline in the catch has resulted in a sharp drop in the value of the total catch. The value of the catch has fallen 77% from about MK36 million in 1982 to about MK8.4 million in 1990. The decline in the value should be taken as an underestimate since the social cost of depletion associated with other lakes other than Lake Malombe is not taken into account. Institutional and legal constraints

The Fisheries Act (Cap 66:05) provides the framework for the control and management of the commercial and artisanal fisheries. The Department of fisheries under the Ministry of Forestry and Natural Resources is responsible for the enforcement of the Act through its District Fisheries Offices.

The major constraints are:

(a) weaknesses in the Fisheries Legislation, which requires revision in order to address environmental issues and sustainable management of fish resources;
(b) low enforcement capacity of Fisheries Act due to:
(i) management (staff) and financial constraints; 
(ii) low levels of penalties for noncompliance;
(c) breaking up of traditional systems for regulation and control of exploitation of fish resources;
(d) inadequate information on fish resources to formulate guidelines for sustainable management of the resources;
(e) lack of coordination between Fisheries Act and other relevant Acts for example, Forestry Act, Land Act, Water Resources Act;
(f) weak compliance of subsidiary legislation and other relevant legislation because of lack of knowledge and low penalties for non-compliance.
4.3.5. Threat to biodiversity

Malawi is rich in biodiversity. The rich genetic pool is vital for scientific research, agricultural and medicinal values, and for the socio-economic development of the country. Biodiversity can be looked at in terms of 'wild' and domesticated fauna and flora. Figure 4.1 shows some factor leading to loss of biodiversity. Wild fauna and flora

So far, about 4,000 fauna, 5300 species of indigenous plants and 1,000 microbiota have been described. Of the fauna nearly 1,500 are vertebrates such as mammals, 163; amphibians, s4; reptiles, 92; fish, 548; and birds 620 species (Sweeney 1970, Konning 1990, Ansell 1985 and 1989, Ansell and Dowsett 1988, Newman et al 1992). Due to high increase in human population and the need for land for agricultural purposes, most of the terrestrial faunas are found in national parks, game and forest reserves. Over the years these areas have been encroached and government has given in by changing some of the boundaries, thereby reducing the sizes of the protected areas

Poaching is a major threat to wild fauna. The Rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), for example, has been drawn to extinction and is now found because it has just been re-introduced into Liwonde National Park. Some of the rare, endangered and endemic animal species are shown in Table 4.3.

The flora of Malawi comprise vascular (tracheophytes) and non-vascular plants (e.g. green algae) and bryophytes (liverworts and mosses). However, not much attention has been given to the non-vascular plants. The vascular plants are divided into ferns (spore forming plants), gymnosperms (flowerless seed plants) and the angiosperms (flowering plants). Although not all of them have been studied, extensive studies have been conducted on the flowering plants. A summary of plants identified so far is shown in Table 4.4.

As is the case with fauna, most of the flora are found in protected areas (i.e. national parks, wildlife and forest reserves). However, four of the biotic communities 4a, 4d, 6 and 8b discussed in section 3.2.6 are not under the protection of forest, national parks and wildlife reserves while the protection of 8a and 9 is however limited to about 12 km2 as represented by the Lake Malawi National Park. In order to protect some tree species from extinction, government has placed some trees under the protection of Forest Act (Cap. 63:01) of the Laws of Malawi. These trees are shown in Table 4.5. However, more trees will be protected under the revised Act.

In addition to plants and animals there are micro organisms, a heterogeneous group of taxonomically unrelated organisms. Some microbes are more closely related to the animals (protozoa)' others to the plants (green algae) while yet others are related to neither group (viruses, bacteria and fungi). The micro-organisms are important in improving soil fertility because some bacteria and fungi help in the decomposition of organic matter while others fix nitrogen into the soil. They are also important for pharmaceutical purposes and in industries. Domesticated fauna and flora

The number of domesticated fauna is relatively small compared to domesticated flora. Among the fauna are cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, rabbits, poultry, doves, peacock, turkey and ducks. The most important ones are cattle, goats, pigs and poultry. The trend of estimated populations of cattle, sheep and goats from 1979 to 1991 is shown in Table 4.6.

As can be seen from the table, the population of cattle increased steadily from 799,000 in 1979 to 1,011,000 in 1986; thereafter it declined and stabilized around 800,000. On the other hand, the population of goats has been increasing linearly and it is estimated that it will reach 1,033,000 by the year 2010 (Ng'ong'ola, Mtimuni, Kanyama-Phiri, Nothale and Wiyo, 1992). The population of sheep has also been fluctuating and it is estimated that it will stabilize around 50,000 by the year 2010. Although the population of cattle is low and will probably be decreasing, stocking density of rangelands will remain high. Already in Ngabu A.D.D., it is 2.02 livestock unit/ha (LSU/ha) while the stocking density for the country's rangeland varies from 0.48 to 2.02 LSU/ha. Overgrazing is likely to be a major environmental problem in many parts of the country.

The production of poultry and small mammal ruminants e.g. rabbits, appear to be of great significance if the uptake animal protein is to be increased.

Although more than 70% of cultivated land is grown to maize, a number of crops are grown either for food or for sale. The future of Malawians agriculture will depend on whether or not high yielding varieties (HYVs) with acceptable qualities can be developed. Appendix 3 shows a range of crops and some varieties grown in Malawi.

4.3.6 Human habitat degradation

The essential environmental components of human habitat are shelter, safe drinking water, and appropriate management of domestic and industrial wastes and effluent, as described in the following sections: Housing and human shelter

Housing conditions in Malawi are generally poor. According to the 1987 Census about 84% of all houses were grass thatched, 53% had mud or wattle walls and 89% had mud floors. It is estimated that 50% of existing housing structures in rural areas are in inhabitable state, calling for urgent replacement. An important reason for this is the temporary nature of the building materials used. It is expected that both rural household and the shortage for rural housing will double in the next 10 - 15 years.

The demand for shelter and housing in urban areas are even more acute than in rural areas as a consequence of high immigration of rural households. This is further exacerbated by the low income for the majority of urban dwellers, which is too low for them to afford renting, building or buying adequate housing. As a result there is considerable over-crowding in existing traditional housing areas. Secondly, there is also an increasing number of unauthorized construction of dwelling structures using unsuitable materials. Such dwelling units lack basic infrastructures and services such as roads, water supply and sewerage disposal. The great housing shortage has resulted in the growth of unplanned squatter settlements, especially in the four major urban areas, where it is estimated that 60 to 70 % of the total population live in traditional housing areas and in unplanned squatter settlements. Drinking water

The Government's policy is to provide clean potable water to all people so as to reduce the incidence of water borne diseases and the time devoted by individuals to water collection. For urban water supplies, the aim is to meet the full demand for treated water with individual connections for those who can afford, and either stand-pipes or kiosk services for those who cannot. For the rural population, the target is the provision of clean but untreated water provided at a maximum distance of 500 metres. The rural population is advised to boil drinking water.

According to 1985 figures, 65% of Malawians population had access to clean or safe potable water (World Bank, 1990). The break-down shows that 85% of the urban population had access to safe drinking water and 45% of the rural population had access to clean water. This overall coverage is one of the highest in Africa. However, both rural and urban water supply systems suffer from significant operational problems. It is estimated that currently only one-third of the rural population has actually access to improved water supplies. Similarly, recent surveys indicate that the figure for urban areas is in the order of 60 - 70%. Externalities of human activities: wastes and effluent

Many human settlements are established in river catchment areas. The habit of bush squatting, done by people who either do not have pit latrines or have pit latrines but are caught up with the call of nature whilst far from home, contaminates surface water through surface run-off. Sludge in pit latrines may contaminate ground water resources if the pit latrines are poorly sited.

There is also deliberate, unauthorized discharge of sewage from some institutions into river courses (see section for details) Sanitation

It is estimated that 64% of the households have some form of toilet with a significant difference between rural and urban areas of 61 and 94% respectively. The most commonly used type of toilet is the pit latrine, being used by 74 and 59% of urban and rural households respectively. In rural areas 40 percent of the population discharge excrete directly or indirectly through surface run-off into the surface water resources. In urban areas only 15% of the population is connected to waterborne sewerage and 15% to septic tanks. However, many of these systems overflow posing environmental consequences for the population as discussed before (see section Solid waste

Solid waste is grouped into three basic classes:

a) Inert wastes, such as builder rubble, soil and spoil. They are harmless unless dumped in unsuitable areas, where they disturb the ecosystem in addition to being Anaesthetic and are also breeding grounds for rats and other vermin.
b) General wastes, such as commercial wastes, domestic waste and garden refuse and industrial waste. They are not hazardous, but pose a threat to human health and the environment when incorrectly managed, giving rise to the production of highly polluting leachate and malodorous as well as potentially explosive gaseous emissions.
c) Hazardous wastes: exhibit the following characteristics - inflammability, corrosivity, explosivity, toxicity, mutagenicity, carcinogenicity and eco-toxicity.  They pollute water and diminish public health safety when improperly managed. They are highly corrosive and a potential threat to public sewers. Discharging them into waterways means pollution of drinking water and threats to aquatic life. Disposal of hazardous wastes on land renders arable land unsuitable for farming, vegetation is destroyed and the toxicity is a threat to man and animals.

Urban areas lack adequate solid waste disposal facilities. Very few households have rubbish disposal pits. Most of the domestic waste is thrown away to sites where children will scavenge and rats, cockroaches, flies etc. proliferate and diseases can be spread easily.

In district centres solid waste collection is mostly done by District Councils. Usually there are no established landfill sites and wastes are dumped in open quarries, forest reserves, abandoned roads etc. Some uncontrolled burning of wastes at the disposal site is practised. This rudimentary solid waste collection and inadequate disposal methods give rise to serious environmental problems such as odour, dust, pests, scavengers/pollution of surface and groundwater sources, and smoke and fire hazards. It also brings about a deterioration of the aesthetic environment. There are no established solid waste disposal systems in the rural areas.

The three city councils (Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu) and Zomba Municipality as well as the eight town councils are faced with all types of solid wastes. Inadequacies are most severe regarding waste collection in traditional housing areas and squatter settlements and industrial waste, as described below. Manufacturing industry and mining

Industrial activities are concentrated to the four major urban areas of the country, where these are regarded as main polluters. Most industries are situated in Blantyre, where 56% of industrial licences between 1987 - 1992 were issued and Lilongwe, for which the figure was 20%.

Every year thousands of tons of industrial wastes are discarded and the quantity, complexity and toxicity is increasing.

Industrial waste in liquid form is usually discharged into sewerage system or rivers. If in solid form, it is dumped on landfills and if in worse conditions, it is dumped on a tip within the factory premises. Emissions of gaseous pollutants from cement plants, foundries, power station boilers and chemical industries is a problem for the surrounding areas, but other sources and general extent of air pollution are yet to be identified.

The effect of mining on the environment in Malawi is mostly in respect to mineral exploration and extraction. The effects are quite localized including unfilled pits, quarry dust, disfigured hills, coal dust, subsidence, trenching and site clearing and dumping of refuse. Occupational health hazard

Occupational diseases are those that workers get as a result of above safe levels exposure in their work-places. Although data on the exposure levels and prevalence of occupational diseases are not available, several diseases are known to occur as a consequence of hazardous work environments.

Workers in coal mines, who are exposed to concentrations of coal dusts over longer periods, are likely to get Coal Workers' Pneumoconiosis. In many industries workers who are exposed to toxic agents or environmental factors may get Occupational Dermatitis, which is an inflammation of the skin. A special type is Tobaccosis, which occurs in the tobacco industry when ventilation is inadequate. In sugar manufacturing workers are exposed to Bagassosis, which is caused by inhalation of dust from sugarcane fibers (bagasse) after sugar has been extracted. The disease is caused by fungus-like bacteria, which produces an allergic reaction in the lungs when inhaled. Byssinosis is a respiratory disease workers may get in industries which use cotton as a raw material. Asbestosis is a disease of the lungs caused by the inhalation of fine airborne asbestos fibers in break bonding and lining and building industries. Silicosis is a disease of the lungs caused by the inhalation of crystalline silica in industries such as manufacture of pottery, foundry operations, mining and quarrying. Occupational cancer caused by exposure to chemical and physical agents called carcinogens occur in a wide range of industries where carcinogens are used. Finally, people working in contact with water may suffer enhanced risks of water related diseases such as schistosomiasis, trypanosomiasis (river blindness), cholera and diarrhoea.

The Factories Inspectorate Department in the Ministry of Labour (MOL) carries out routine factory inspection of all factory premises in Malawi with the aim to improve working conditions. However, the frequency of these inspections are hampered by lack of and inadequately trained personnel and financial resources. The MOL has recently established an Industrial Hygiene Unit which will be involved in the quantification and periodic monitoring of workers in industries: Transport

The transport sector has two types of environmental impacts. First, there are the effects of opening up and constructing transport infrastructure, particularly roads. The effects are deforestation, erosion and siltation. The gravel pits left behind act as breeding grounds for mosquitos. Second, there are the negative effects from the operation of transport services, such as air, land and water pollution, with particular regard to spillage from transportation and storage of petroleum products. Institutional and legal constraints

There are two sets of legislation addressing human habitat degradation: legislation pertaining to land use and physical planning and legislation pertaining to control of waste emissions and handling of waste.

Location of housing, industry, commercial activities, transport etc. is the responsibility of the Department of Housing and Physical Planning in conjunction with city, town and district councils.

Major problems pertaining to land use and physical planning are linked to lack of or non-compliance with siting regulations for industrial and tourist activities. Existing legislation on industrial site location lies in the hands of Housing and Physical Planning Department as per the Town and Country Planning

Act (Cap 23:01). But the environmental regulatory frame work has not yet been enacted by Parliament and the Act does not have a provision for environment protection matters by industries in zoned areas. With regard to tourism, the application of the Lakeshore Physical Development Plans is weak because there inadequate monitoring mechanism.

Pollution control comes under the Water Resources Act. The major deficiency of this law is its lack of procedures and specifications for disposal of toxic liquid industrial wastes. Furthermore, it does not prescribe strong penalties against those who contravene the laws and cause substantial water pollution by the discharge of effluent. The same constraint applies to the Refuse and Rubble Disposal By-Laws of the Local Government (Urban Areas) Act (Cap 22:01).

Although the Mines and Minerals Act (Cap 61:01) provides for the protection of the environment and regulations for its enforcement are in place, it is difficult to enforce the regulations for the small-scale operators due to lack of technical know-how and financial resources. This constraint also applies to the Petroleum Act which addresses storage and transportation of petroleum products. This is further weakened by the multiplicity of bodies involved.

There is limited information on sources of pollution and the kind, type, amount, frequency and degree at which the effluent contaminates the rivers. This is particularly -a problem regarding industrial emissions, where entrepreneurs consider pre-treatment of wastes too costly and are reluctant to undertake corrective measures before actual damage is identified. Industrial and municipal effluents are monitored by the Water Resources Board, which is hampered in its work by the fact that many industries may start without industrial licence.

All urban centres are faced with severe inadequate sewerage and waste collection and disposal systems and facilities and in some cases the facilities are non-existent.

4.3.7 Air pollution

Although this is not yet a big environmental problem, generally in major urban areas gaseous emissions from industries, car exhaust fumes as well as burning of old tyres pollute the air. In the rural areas, uncontrolled bush-fires also pollute the air apart from destroying vegetative cover. Air pollution also arises from quarrying and coal mining activities. With the increased scope of these activities, air pollution could be a serious problem especially in nearby areas.

4.3.8 Climatic change

The consequence of issues discussed in sections 3.3.2, and which are attributed directly and indirectly to human activities, result in the alteration in the composition of the atmosphere over Malawi and the globe in general, thereby causing climate change.

Climate change and climate variation (natural) have impacts on the environment and society in the following manner:

a) Environment:
(i) Hydrological systems through change in precipitation and soil moisture.
(ii) Ecosystems and vegetation  changes vegetation zones and species mix thereby reduce biological diversity.
b) Society:
(i) Water resources  increased floods and droughts.
(ii) Food and agriculture  changes to  growing seasons, yields, pest distribution and cultivated land, forestry and fisheries.
c) Economic activity: Change in energy requirements, effects on transport and industry.
d) Human settlement and health: Changes in disease patterns and effects on infrastructure, etc.
Although climate change and climate variations have not yet been assessed with absolute certainty in Malawi, and throughout the world in general, recent climate abnormalities such as droughts, floods etc bear witness to climate change. 

4.3.9 Criteria for prioritization of environmental issues

Environmental issues are not of the same importance. Perceptions of urgencies and priorities depend on who is doing the rating. This was clearly demonstrated through the consultative district workshops, as may be appreciated in Volume 2 of the NEAP, where the proceedings from these workshops are presented. The same broad variations were also demonstrated in the National Workshop in May 1994, where the second draft of the NEAP was discussed. It is therefore acknowledged that all Key Environmental Issues are of importance; but their prioritization and that of the corresponding actions will be determined through the decentralized NEAP implementation modality described in Chapter 6. For that prioritization different criteria may be applied, as further discussed below.

a) Socio-economic importance of issues as a threat to sustainable development

Preliminary efforts co prioritize environmental problems based on comparison of social costs imposed by different types of environmental degradation shows that soil erosion imposes the highest social costs The figures highlighted above are on annual basis and purely estimates based on 1994 market prices.3. This is followed by deforestation, water pollution and lack of sanitation, and threat to fish resources. The social costs pertaining to these key environmental issues were estimated on annual basis as of April, 1994 market prices as follows:

  • Soil erosion - MK1,155 million (US$165 million);
  • Deforestation - MK385 million (US$5s million);
  • water pollution and lack of sanitation  MK105 million (US$15 million);
  • Threat to fish resources - MK28 million (US$4 million).
However, in order to have a more representative and realistic prioritization of environmental issues, due consideration should also be given to non economic criteria as outlined below.

(b) Extent to which people are affected

Severity of effect of the environmental problem on people constitutes one of the key factors which should be considered in prioritizing environmental issues. Severity is a factor influenced by the nature of the problem in question. In some cases the problem is more pronounced and extensive whilst in other cases the problem is marginal. The extent to which people are affected by the problem is instrumental in investment decisions.

(c) Effects on vulnerable groups

Some environmental problems, for example air pollution, may be localized and affect a defined group of people. The effects which may range from health to non-health, economic to non-economic, and social to non-social, are equally important for consideration in prioritizing environmental problems.

(d) Spatial extent of degradation or depletion

Whilst certain key environmental problems cut across all regions, there are others, as explained above, which are localized. Geographical locality is critical in determining the gravity of the problem vis-a-vis their impact on the population and sustainable development. Spatial nature of the problem i.e. whether nationally spread or localized, is a critical issue in prioritizing environmental issues.

(e) Extent to which degradation or depletion is irreversible

Whilst certain key environmental problems are reversible, some are irreversible. The permanent nature of the problems and associated effects are critical factors in the process of prioritizing environmental problems. They also influence decisions in preventive investments.


Contents | Foreword | Acknowledgments 
Chapters:  | One | Two | Three | Four | Five | Six | Seven
Lists: | Figures | Maps | Tables | Appendices