Malawi’s Natural Resources Compromised by Short-Sighted Development

Dorothy Tembo-Nhlema
Director of Programmes, Lilongwe Wildlife Trust

When I was young, most mountains in areas that I have lived were covered with mature trees and they looked beautiful. Soche, Bangwe, Mpingwe, Ndirande and Michiru in Blantyre were amongst the mountains with lots of beautiful trees.

As the population growth rate grew from 2.6% in 1970 to 3.6% in 1990, coupled with new buildings and roads, it is inevitable that there will be land use changes including expanding into fragile and forested areas. But we could have been proactive in striking a balance between population growth, development and natural resources.

Blantyre landscapes are among the many fragile catchment areas that have been encroached due to population pressure, and the hills have become residents and farms. These hills were major biodiversity hotspots, whose value of ecosystem services they provided has been reduced to nothing. With destroyed catchments, disasters in the lower Shire including Blantyre itself, and related costs, has increased.

The felling of 50 year old Mahogany trees to pave way for the six-lane road expansion is yet another example of short-sighted planning on the part of the Lilongwe City Council, Roads Authority and the Government. It will result in disturbances in ecologically sensitive areas around Lingadzi and Lilongwe rivers, and nature sanctuaries, which are likely to have a compounding impact on wildlife, biodiversity and environment in general.

These trees were within the proposed Lilongwe Ecological Corridor and the current initiative to transform Lilongwe into a green, clean, prosperous, and resilient city, by ensuring the protection of its urban natural assets, and advancing complementary nature-based solutions will be hugely affected.

These are not unique examples of short-sighted development planning. We have several development programmes that have led to clearing of trees and forest areas: the M1 road expansion, the expansion of M3, construction of Mombela University and Nkhatabay hospital and planning residential areas of Nathenje residence.

In most cases, Forestry Department and Environmental Affairs are not involved, yet safeguarding mandates reside in their offices. In addition, consultations and public awareness are not extensively conducted to gather ideas that may reduce the impacts. All future development should consider relevant department and organisations.

Development is good and is a sign that a country is growing, however all other factors including environmental planning should be considered. We can learn from offset/mitigation/replacement programmes, like the Sadzi hill project by Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD).

Only if we have plans that translate into actions and long-term planning on both our development and environmental sustainability, will this nation be an exemplary country on green development.