/ 18 May 2024

Lake Malawi’s lake is rising, flooding its beaches

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Washed away: Holiday resorts and homes along the lake’s shore are being damaged. Photo: Jack McBrams

When orange rays gently kiss Lake Malawi’s wavy waters, it is a sight that ordinarily attracts both local and international tourists for the obligatory “I woke up in an exotic place” vacation picture.

But today, at Sigelege Beach Resort in the town of Salima, the beach is deserted, save for a few locals. The usually animated John Banana, a curio seller who has been plying his trade here for five years, looks downcast as he arranges his wares. 

“This is bad,” he says, gesturing at the waves hitting the shore. “If the water comes any higher, there won’t be any beach left.”

Next door, at the Blue Waters Lake Resort, manager Don Samaraseka is supervising workers as they pile rocks to shield buildings from the waves.

“We’ve packed in about 100 tonnes of rocks along the waterfront and we are still fighting the waves,” he says. 

When he started working at the resort in 2014, the lake waters were almost 150 metres away from where the shoreline is now, he says.

Along the stretch of the lake, as far as the eye can see, sandbags now line the shore, a frail barrier against the relentless advance of the waters. Some resorts try to pump the water away from their premises.

In the lakeshore resort districts of Mangochi, Nkhata Bay and Nkhotakota, sandy expanses have been swallowed by the lake.

“The water’s advance knows no bounds,” says George Zibophe, the disaster preparedness official for Nkhotakota.

He says the lake began to swell in February, and talks about submerged resorts and flooded houses on the edges of the lake.

“We’re still assessing,” he says. “But the damage is clear. So many buildings and structures.”

Malawi’s agency for disaster management says the rising waters have affected 1 500 households in Nkhotakota alone, and 800 of them have been displaced.

The National Water Resources Authority says Lake Malawi’s waters have risen to their highest level in more than a decade: 52 centimetres higher than last year.

As the lake swells, people living in an area defined by its beauty must battle the elements or watch their fortunes nosedive.

But their battles might prove too feeble against nature. As the disaster management agency’s Charles Kalemba acknowledges, this calamity for human beings is nature reclaiming its dominion. 

This article first appeared in The Continent , the pan-African weekly  newspaper produced in partnership with the Mail & Guardian . It’s designed to be read and  shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here