Business has come to a standstill in some areas in Mangochi and Machinga districts, as water overflowing from Lake Malawi and its only outlet the Shire River is spilling into business premises and people’s houses.
However, the National Water Resources Authority (NWRA) has blamed affected people for settling in areas not meant for human habitation.
NWRA records indicate that, as at March 24 2023, Lake Malawi water levels had increased to 475.39 metres above sea level, which is 43 centimetres higher than during the corresponding period last year.
The development has seen some houses and hotels that were constructed closer to water bodies getting partly submerged.
When The Daily Times crew visited some lodges along Lake Malawi, notably those in Monkey Bay, Makawa and Namiyasi locations, we found that some lodge owners had decided to close shop after water invaded their properties.
In fact, water was still overflowing from the lake, making its way into the premises, with pockets of usipa fish seen here and there.
In some cases, workers in some lodges were using boats to transfer valuables such as office furniture, beddings, kitchen utensils, among others, to areas where water levels are relatively lower.
Moses Banda, who owns a private cottage between Mangochi and Makawa, said he cannot believe it that water is leaving what he thought were its boundaries, flooding into buildings and damaging property.
“I have been here for the past 17 years. This is my retirement wallet. The structure I constructed here was meant to sustain me in my old age but it seems like this property might not be used again because the water is just too much. We don’t know what has happened this year to spark the water to rise to this level,” he said.
He denied suggestions that he might have built the property close to the lake against the laws that regulate construction of properties along the lake.
“This structure was constructed about 30 metres from the lake and I do not think that it is fair for one to accuse us of violating laws of the country when we were constructing our structures.
“But maybe, as some people are suggesting, the problem could be at the [Liwonde] barrage. Activities there could be contributing to the problem,” he said.
Apart from affecting commercial properties along Lake Malawi, almost half of houses in Mwanyama and Mapila villages, which border the Shire River, were submerged after water overflowed.
As a result, 53-year-old widow Stella Ngwati from Mwanyama Village is staying in an unfinished house with members of three other families.
“This is because water submerged houses in our village. These are strange times. We have never seen something like this.
“As I am speaking, household materials such as chairs, beds and others are stuck at my water-filled house,” Ngwati said.
At the crack of dawn every day, Ngwati trudges in knee-high water from the temporary shelter and heads for the abandoned house to check if water levels have subsided.
“But it seems like the levels are increasing every day and we might not return there anytime soon. If this continues, I don’t know what will happen to me and my children because we have nowhere to go. If it is true that this is because of the closure of some gates at Liwonde Barrage, then they are killing us,” she said.
According to Village Head Mwanyama, families that have been affected have moved into uncompleted houses.
“It is like they are staying in a boat because all the surrounding buildings have been filled with water and most of what used to be dry ground is in water. We want the authorities to come forward and assist the affected people with relief items because their economic activities have been badly affected. My village has never experienced something like this,” Mwanyama said.
Almost all the affected people are blaming NWRA, which manages water levels at Liwonde Barrage, for the situation.
However, NWRA spokesperson Masozi Kasambala said, currently, they are releasing more water than is required by Electricity Generation Company, which needs the water for power generation at its plants along the Shire River.
“We are releasing about 500 cubic meters of water per second at the barrage against the required 300 cubic meters per second, which is needed down the stream. This means if we increase the quantity further, it will be disaster for people down the stream,” Kasambala said.
He revealed that on March 24 2023, water levels in Lake Malawi had increased to 475.39 metres above the sea level which was 43 centimetres higher than it was last year during a similar period.
“But usually water levels in Lake Malawi become higher in May every year which means that the waters will continue to increase further than now,” he said.
Kasambala suggested that properties that have been affected might have been built in areas which used to have water but were dry due to low rainfall which Malawi was receiving in the past years.
“It is recommended that construction or agricultural activities must be done 477 metres above the contour line to avoid issues like this. But it seems people were constructing below this line, hence this scenario. We want to advice people that, before developing properties along the lake, they should seek advice from professionals to avoid similar challenges,” he said.