On 30 March, the Climate Parliament organised a virtual parliamentary roundtable with MPs from Malawi in collaboration with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) and with support from the European Commission (DG INTPA). After presentations by our team on the latest instalment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 6th assessment report and on the Climate Parliament’s activities and action ideas, the floor was opened for MPs to discuss the climate change impacts that they are already witnessing in their constituencies.
Malawi has been severely exposed to extreme weather events which have had terrible human and economic consequences. Weather variability, and especially abrupt shifts from periods of drought to heavy rainfall, have resulted in severe floods destroying people’s homes, crops, livestock and livelihoods, as well as roads and public infrastructure. Such changes in weather patterns are a direct consequence of climate change that many countries around the world are experiencing, with higher temperatures leading to greater evaporation and surface drying, increasing water vapour concentration in the atmosphere. The districts of Nsanje, Chikwawa and Salima, and more generally the Southern part of the country, have been the most affected by these catastrophes. And their frequency is intensifying. While big cyclones used to arise once every couple of years in the past, Malawi has already experienced two just in early 2022: cyclone Ana in January and cyclone Gombe in March have done huge damage, forcing many people to leave their homes and find shelter in camps. To try and mitigate the impacts of climate change, Malawi is now prioritising risk management to prevent floods, by removing sand and digging trenches in the rivers’ floors, building digues and planting more trees along riverbanks.
Droughts and heatwaves are another deadly effect of climate change that MPs are experiencing first-hand in their constituencies. The Malawian population is heavily dependent on rainfed agriculture. Not only is agriculture important for food security, but it is also a crucial sector for the economy, supporting the livelihoods of over 80% of the population. Maize is the main crop in the country, occupying more than 70% of available agricultural land. With higher temperatures and water scarcity, its production is under increasingly heavier climate and environmental stresses, raising the threats of malnutrition, inequality and poverty. Moreover, as climate change has been degrading soil fertility, Malawian farmers are now more reliant on fertilisers to grow their crops, which they have been importing from Russia. The current geopolitical events in Ukraine make them fear they might become unaffordable, which might be yet another external factor that endangers the country’s food security. To curb those risks, Malawi is now looking at developing irrigation systems and diversifying its crops.
As the MPs pointed out, a huge majority of the Malawian people rely heavily on burning firewood and charcoal for cooking, thereby contributing to deforestation and air pollution. According to the World Health Organisation, each year more than 3.8 million people, most of them women and children, die prematurely from illness attributable to household air pollution from inefficient cooking practices. Several schools in Malawi have developed feeding programs encouraging the children to go to school to have their meals, therefore reducing both malnutrition and school absenteeism. The MPs emphasised that, as firewood and charcoal are also being used to prepare meals in schools, there is an urgent need to promote clean cooking solutions as quickly and widely as possible in their country. The Climate Parliament has collaborated with the Modern Energy Cooking Services research programme looking into clean cooking with renewable energy. It promotes electric pressure cookers, which can allow cooking any traditional African dish very efficiently, using power from the sun. As the MPs pointed out, if providing this type of appliances is one part of the solution, another critical issue is to increase energy access to power them. Although the country relies heavily on hydropower for its electricity supply, Malawi is rich in all kinds of renewable energy, especially solar, which today is the cheapest source of energy in the world. The MPs expressed their desire to work to create more favourable frameworks for investment, to shift more funds into building solar minigrids in villages and increase the reliability of their energy system.