Malawi has always been a land of two seasons. The rainy season was the time to plant and harvest, while the dry season was spent conserving food and planning for the next year’s crop. However, the steady cycle of the seasons has begun to be thrown into flux. Between 1990 and 2006, there were 33 weather-related disasters in Malawi, a nearly five-fold increase from the 7 disasters in the 20 years before that. Malawi was then struck by harsh droughts in 2012 and 2016 and severe flooding in 2015. This extreme weather will get even worse as we move towards mid-century. Leading climatologists predict that during the course of the 21st century, Malawi will become much hotter and drier than it is today. This is dire news for the subsistence farmers in our catchment area, 95% of whom did not have food left by the beginning of this year’s harvest.
On top of this, Malawi is on the brink of a demographic time bomb. Malawi has a population of over 18 million and with the second-highest population growth rate in the world, the population is projected to more than double to 37 million people by 2050. This has all the makings of an ecological, environmental and country-wide catastrophe; twice as many people, trying to live off of the same amount of land, with steadily depleting soil, in hotter conditions, with less water.
We have a tendency to think about climate change in terms of melting ice caps and rising sea levels. But we need to rethink what the impacts of global climate change really are. Malawi is land-locked and yet may be one of the worst affected countries in the entire world. But regardless of what the particular threat is in a given region, rising sea levels or declining precipitation, it will be the poor and vulnerable who will be most heavily impacted by the effects of climate change.