Chapter 9: Climate change and air quality

 Climate change and air quality

 9.0 Introduction

The dependence of Malawi's economy on rain-fed agricultural production and commodities trade places Malawi in a particularly vulnerable position in the event of climatic-rainfall variabilities.

Of recent, Malawi has been experiencing significant variations in weather patterns, ranging from severe drought conditions to extreme flood events. These extreme variations seriously affect agricultural production and development, since the output from new technologies and innovations that may raise productivity and profitability varies markedly with rainfall availability. Furthermore, because most rural people depend on agriculture for subsistence, unreliability of rainfall causes losses in incomes, and increased general vulnerability to food security (GOM/WFP, 1996).
 9.1 Pressure indicators of climate changes

Lying between latitude 9° 22' and 17° 7' S. and between longitudes 32° 40' and 35° 55' E, the climate is characterised by three main seasons: cool and dry, from May to August; warm and dry, from September to November; and warm and wet, from December to April. The five-month rainy season begins earlier in Southern and Central Regions, from November to March. Annual rainfall ranges from 600mm in lower shire valley and Karonga lakeshore plains, to over 3000mm in high elevation areas. Temperatures range between 20° to 35° C, but may approach and surpass 40° C in the Rift Valley areas (Mkanda, et. al., 1995).

The climate of Malawi is strongly influenced by its position within the sub-continent in relation to the pressure and wind systems of the Southern Hemisphere. Changes in the distribution of rainfall take place in response to the movement of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) and associated belts of distribution. Climate change and variability are caused amongst others by disturbance of the ITCZ, shifts in the global circulation pattern, deforestation, rate of evapo-transpiration, green house gas emissions and disruption in the hydrological system.

Climatically Me world is regarded as a system with on-going interactions between the ocean and atmosphere. It has been noted that the 1991/92 drought which affected most of the Southern Africa was largely caused by the El Nino phenomenon, which is caused by a periodic warning of the tropical Pacific Ocean and related shifts in the atmospheric circulation and brings climatic disruptions to low latitude areas.
 9.2 State indicators

In recent years, Malawi has experienced extreme climatic events, ranging from drought (1991/92) to flood (1996/97). Even during the flood year of 1996/97, some parts of the extreme north of the country experienced drought. Thus, changes in the amount of rainfall vary in different areas of the country in space and time. There is also scientific evidence that there is seasonal maximum and minimum temperature deviation over the mean influenced by climatic variability (Figs. 9.1 and 9.2).

Planting dates also vary from year to year and as a result of seasonal climate variability. It is generally recognised that staggering planting dates is crucial for a number of reasons:

  • early planted crops tend to escape some of the mid-and late-season pests; 
  • early planted crops may mature while there is still sufficient soil moisture for good grain-filling; 
  • planting too early exposes the crop to the risk of desiccation if early rains are followed by more than 4 weeks of dry weather; 
  • planting too early may expose the crop to rain damage when they mature before the end of rains; and 
  • subsistence farmers often keep seed in reserve (or money with which to buy it, assuming it is available) to re-plant in the event of a planting failure.
Year to year variation in onset of rains and season lengths (Fig. 9.3) are a result of shifts in weather pattern. There are also yearly shifts in planting dates, yield, occurrence of drought and floods, changes in Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and the occurrence of dry spells

Climatic variability, including drought and floods, has significant impacts on all sectors of the economy through inter-sectoral links and multiplier effects.

9.2.1 Impacts of climatic changes and weather variations 

In the last three decades, Malawi has experienced significant variability and unpredictability in seasonal rainfall. For example, three droughts have occurred since the late 1970s: in 1978-79, 1981-82, and 199192. The agriculture, water, forestry, fisheries and wildlife sectors are greatly affected by these drought events (Mkanda, et. al., 1995). 

Impacts on non-agricultural sectors

While agriculture and livestock sectors are directly affected by drought? water shortages, resulting from drought or inter seasonal rainfall shortages, have significant impact on other sectors as well. Of recent the ability to generate hydra electricity from the utilities in Malawi has been drastically affected. Further, the manufacturing sector has also been severely affected due to water shortages.

The impacts of climate variability on water availability and influence on Lake Levels are discussed in detail in Chapter 6.

Inter-sectoral links and knock on effects

The effects of climatic change in general, and drought in', particular, are felt across the whole economy because of the intricate linkages of the various economic sectors. Upon following the failure of agriculture due to drought, the sectors that directly depend on agriculture such as agro-industries, are seriously affected as a result of reduced supply of raw materials. In turn, the low incomes realised by the smallholders depress the effective demand for goods and inputs by the agricultural sector. Furthermore, these events at times trigger increased unemployment. 

Effects on balance of payments

Considering that the agricultural sector accounts for a significant share of total exports, foreign exchange earnings are extremely vulnerable to drought in Malawi, a situation that aggravates balance of payments problems. During dry spells the economy generally slows down, and authorities may pass measures to reduce imports, evening the demand for staple food and raw materials.

Budgetary effects

The impacts of drought are felt in the government budget. On the income or revenue side, drought leads to reductions in tax revenues as a result of lower personal and corporate earnings. In terms of expenditure, drought and poverty relief programmes can become a considerable burden on the government budget.

Price effects and food security.

Drought has a cost-push effect on inflation through food price increases. For example, after the 1991/92 drought, the annual rate of food price inflation in Malawi increased significantly. Furthermore, since food constitutes an especially large expenditure component for lower income groups, food price increases have serious food security Implications.
 9.3 Response indicators

The following measures have been adopted to mitigate the effects of a predicted climatic variability:

  • staggering planting dates within recommended planting 'window'; 
  • strengthening tree planting and promote agro-forestry techniques; 
  • implementation of soil and water conservation measures, for example, terracing, planting using ridges and furrows; 
  • switching to drought tolerant varieties, early planting, rainfall harvesting, irrigation, and improvement of storage facilities; 
  • introduction of drought levy; 
  • introduction of drought relief programmes; 
  • rationing of hydro-electric power; 
  • water restrictions; and 
  • health awareness campaigns.
 9.4 Institutional framework

The Meteorological Department is the implementing agency for the Convention on Climate Change and is facilitated by the Environmental Affairs Department as the National focal point for the Programme.

At national level, networks are being strengthened with the agricultural community, water resource agencies, and the Famine Earl Warning System (FEWS). At regional and international level, development of capabilities to conduct research with institutions such as the Drought Monitoring Centres (DMCs) in Harare and Nairobi, Climate Analysis Centre (CAC) in Washington, and University of Kwazulu-Natal, are being promoted.
 9.5 Information, research and monitoring

Information on climate change and variability is utilized in the following areas: 

  • development and sectoral planning in particular, the agricultural sector; 
  • drought preparedness and mitigation strategies; capital investment projects; 
  • macro economic management; and 
  • early warning systems 
The Malawi Government is placing special emphasis on the creation of networks to promote the development of global climate change research relevant to the Malawi situation. The purpose is to improve the understanding of the global climate system and relate it to Malawi.
 9.6 Technology and transfer

Climate variability influences the types of technologies that are developed and transferred to end-users. This is particularly so in agriculture. There is need, therefore, to develop technologies that will be adaptable to climatic fluctuations (Table 9.1).
9.7 Education, awareness and communication

The challenge to the Malawi education and communication system is to determine how best to:

  • involve the public and decision makers in planning programs and examining policies and choices; 
  • expand public awareness of global climate change, prominent current issues, their scientific complexity and needed research including predicting consequences and evaluating options for responding. for 
  • example, the prediction of the El Nino event during the 1997/98 season has helped to publicize global climatic issues; and 
  • promote awareness among educators and decision-makers about the multidisciplinary nature of global change issues and solutions.
 9.8 Climate variability and land-use planning

Climate change data plays a vital role in agricultural planning and production. The success or failure of agricultural activities, in particular land management, largely depends on whether or not climatic change factors well taken into account during planning.

In Malawi, agro-ecological zones have been identified without incorporating all the necessary variables. Therefore, there is still need to formulate programmes that would delineate the country into agro-ecological zone using modern Geographical Information System (GIS) techniques.
 9.9 Economic, fiscal and market-related impacts/ effects

The economic impact of climate variability affects countries differently, depending on their economic structure. For example, countries with simple economies like Malawi are affected by drought severely. After a year of drought, recovery is not immediate on the return of rains. Drought shocks cause food insecurity through reduced harvests and food shortages, and may cause a host of economic difficulties.
 9.10 Implications for regional and global issues

Climate Change and variability have resulted in creation of a Regional Early Warning System (REWS) under the auspices of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). This works in collaboration with national early earning units to conduct pre-harvest assessments of expected crop production and to advance warnings of the likely impact of the forthcoming harvest on food availability and import needs for the coming marketing year. A national early

Table 9.1: Adaptation strategies mitigate climate change

Adaptation Strategy
-Change land topography to allow water harvesting.
-Use irrigation systems to improve farm production.
-Use new land treatments to protect against soil erosion.
-Change to moisture conserving farming practices.
-Change timing of farm operations.
-Use different crop production policies and programs.
-Research into new water insensitive technologies.
Ecosystems and Land Use
-Protect of existing habitats and species.
-Enlarge wildlife habitats to ensure species survival.
Energy Supply
-Alternative cooling systems and water conservation in thermal plants.
-Change the energy source from hydroelectric production to other sources.
-Pricing mechanisms needed for hydropower.
-Make fisheries more sustainable through aquaculture systems.
-Develop alternative employment for traditional users of fishery resources.
-Protect existing forests.
-Introduce new drought tolerant species.
-Change or improve use of forests.
Urban Infrastructure
-Revise standards, and safety factors.
Water Resources
-Water conservation and demand management systems.
-Improved water-use efficiency through management plans.
-Protect river flows and water quality.
-Interbasin transfers.
Source: Smith (1993). [Return]

warning system also exists in Malawi, comprising the agro-meteorology and agricultural planning components. At global level, the implications are already felt as the origin of El Nino over the main oceans affect Malawi as well.
 9.13 Status of air quality

A comparison of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions for the major gasses, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide by full molecular weight shows that the contribution of carbon dioxide is the highest and that at least 97% originates from agricultural land-use sources (Fig. 9.4). A similar analysis of the sectoral contributions of ammonia based on full molecular weight shows that a greater part originates from the energy sector (83%) followed by the agricultural sector (15%) (Fig. 9.5). Comparing sectoral contribution of GHGs based on TCO2 Equivalent shows that the highest contribution is from Land-Use (68%), Energy (26%) and Agriculture (5%) as shown in Fig. 9.6. These results are all from 1990.
 9.14 Responses for improving air quality

An assessment of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions have been conducted under the following sectors: energy, industrial processes, solvent and other product use, agriculture, forestry and land use change, waste management and air pollution. The National Environmental Action Plan recognises problems associated with climate change and air pollution. However, more emphasis was placed on issues related to climate variability.
 9.15 Policy and legislation on climate change and air quality 

In relation to climate change and air quality the Malawi National Environmental Policy recognises the following guiding principles (Malawi Government' 1996) 

  • air pollution should be reduced in order to provide a healthy and sustainable environment for social and economic development; 
  • greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced and greenhouse gas sinks must be enhanced in order to prevent interference with the climate system, 
  • it is necessary to control localised air pollution, especially in the urban environment, so as to reduce incidences of airborne diseases; 
  • the climate is a valuable natural resource, which, if not well managed, can become a serious constraint to socio-economic development; and 
  • bush fires must be controlled to reduce air pollution and environmental hazards. 
  • The following strategies have been adopted 
  • develop a database on air pollution through the establishment of a sound air quality monitoring system; 
  • develop and promote alternative energy sources to fuelwood and technologies in order to reduce the use of fuelwood and enhance carbon sinks; 
  • enact a clean air act; 
  • develop and enforce regulations regarding air emissions; 
  • strengthen the existing national climate/ meteorological database and monitoring networks; 
  • assess and monitor the potential impact of climate change on the functioning of ecosystems, vegetation patterns and net carbon sinks; 
  • use climate data to help guide land-use and economic development decisions; 
  • ensure adequate regional and international co-operation for the smooth exchange of climate information and control of trans-boundary atmospheric air pollution; 
  • reduce gas emission from the transport sector, and the manufacturing industry; 
  • maintain a National Ozone Protection Unit in order to promote use of ozone friendly technologies and enact appropriate legislation to support the mandate of the National Ozone Protection Unit; and environmental awareness campaigns should include dangers of uncontrolled bush fires and proper management of bush fires. 
Chapter References:

 Contents | Foreword  | Acknowlegdements | Editorial Process
Contributors | Preface | Acronyms  | Overview
Chapters: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | Appendix I
Lists: Maps | Figures | Tables | Boxes | References