Famine in Malawi – why climate change is a problem right now


Extreme weather events in the UK and further afield frequently make the news. Though no single event can be solely attributed to the changes in the climate system from fossil fuel pollution, we know that the frequency and intensity of these is likely to increase in the future as the planet warms.

But as Rev Richard Tucker, Malawi Partnership Officer for the Church of England explains, the altered climate is leading to significant changes to things such as the predictability and definition of the seasons in countries like Malawi. And these are occurring today.

Mulanje Manis

Mulanje Manis (10) stands on her family’s ruined land in Lulanie in the SE of Malawi. Photo Rev Paul Bracher 02.10.2015

They may not make the news, but their impact can be long-lasting and devastating for those affected.

Much of Malawi still depends on rain-fed agriculture, so their food supply is often insecure. When the rains come, normally about November/December, people rush to plant their crops. Crops, especially the staple food maize, grow through the rainy season until about March, they ripen and they’re harvested in about May.

But climate change has begun to disrupt this predictable pattern. This year, 2015, the rains came late, then when they did come in January, and they were torrential for about 7 days. They washed away crops, and houses, and livestock that was not taken to higher ground – and worst of all, precious topsoil.

River Ruo

The River Ruo on the Malawi/ Mozambique border that burst its banks in January, flooding the area and washing away nutrients from the soil
Photo: Rev Paul Bracher, 02.10.2015

In Birmingham we collected for a flooding appeal. People planted a second crop – but in many places the rains stopped early and the second crops did not grow fully, so consequently the harvest this spring was very poor.

The result is that the price of food has rocketed out of the reach of many. The government has imported some maize, but not enough. People have tightened their belts, and hunger is widespread. A colleague who had just visited Malawi told me that in parts of Southern Malawi the floods washed away all the nutrients from the soil and, in some cases, even deposited a layer of infertile sand on the soil. There, they will not be able to grow anything without fertiliser – and how can they afford that much fertiliser?

In those areas there is now famine – and it’s still 6 months to harvest. It’s not a happy picture.

The Bright Now campaign is asking churches of all denominations to think about how they invest their finances in the light of climate change. But it’s also about how we respond to what has become an acute and present day crisis and not just one that will happen at some point in the future.

You can find out more about the situation in Malawi today by contacting Richard by e-mail at MalawiOfficer@cofebirmingham.com


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