Since the discovery of oil prospects in Lake Malawi the public debate on this very important issue has been avoided. Malawians only talked about the issue of oil drilling in Lake Malawi at a time when they heard about a border dispute between Malawi and Tanzania over the Lake Malawi ownership. Little has been put in public domain on the negative impact of oil in fresh water Lake. Marine wildlife and aquatic ecology of any fresh water body in the world are always negatively affected by oil and gas drilling processes.
The world over there has been no successful oil drilling in a fresh water lake that has gone without any spillage. Lake Malawi is the most biodiversity fresh water in the world. It boasts over 1000 species of cichlids type of fish only endemic to Malawi. The Lake Malawi has only one outlet in the south the Shire River as such it has low flushing power. This verifies that any oil spillage in Lake Malawi would take years for the Lake to clean naturally.
Part of Lake Malawi where most of the special evolutionary processes occur leading to occurrence of more cichlids fish species is Lake Malawi National Park. This part is declared a protected area by Malawi Laws and a World Heritage site by United Nations Education and Scientific Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This is because Lake Malawi has Outstanding Universal Values. The UN body has since asked government of Malawi to stop oil drilling plans along the Lake Malawi National Park.
As of January, 2016 Malawi government had not given its final position on whether it will continue with oil drilling in Lake Malawi or not.
The entire Lake Malawi supports over 2million in livelihood along the lake shore. Drilling oil in Lake Malawi will render many jobless. There are a number of fishing communities along the lakeshore whose life is dependent on the presence of fish in the Lake. Government of Malawi’s sustainable development plans must include assisting these fishing villages in value addition and post-harvest handling of capture fisheries.
One fisherman with a boat employs about ten people as casual workers on daily basis. On a good catch of Usipa a boat owner can make over 1 million kwacha in a day. Around fishing villages you will find many small scale businesses operating 24 hours a day since the fishing is usually done at night. Tea room owners are mostly women who bake bread or mandasi and sell tea to fishermen for a living. Small scale hawkers in the fishing village directly depend on the fish catches. Upon making a catch the fishermen further employs casual labor in drying and preserving the fish. All these people are directly dependent on the fish catch. Interestingly the fishing business in this order has over the years raised families and enabled children attend school even higher education.
It is observed that most fish catch is lost through poor handling, lack of storage and processing facilities. Solar powered cooling and freezing facilities in each fishing village will improve the post-harvest fish catches.
On the other hand drilling oil in Lake Malawi may lead to loss of fish species. This phenomena is evident the world over only that water bodies affected do not have outstanding universal values like Lake Malawi.
Each fishing village along the Lake Malawi shores supports a minimum of 18,000 people and dependents. Where will these people go if the Lake is exploited for Oil?
Malawi is on top list of cheap casual labor exporters to South Africa and Europe such that other countries assume Malawi is at war or civil conflict. The mass exodus of our citizens abroad will increase once Oil is drilled in Lake Malawi. Tourism attraction will deteriorate heavily. Many in tourism industry will lose jobs. The fisheries will send many jobless as result of lower fish catches. Urbanization will grow. The majority will be trekking to major cities of Blantyre, Lilongwe, Zomba and Mzuzu. Expect increased levels of crime in the cities once you drill oil in Lake Malawi.
Crude oil production has led to major climate change catastrophes around the world and as such Malawi needs to move towards clean energy.
The current UN sustainable Development Goals and world protocol demands a radical shift towards clean renewable energy, safe water access, prevention of man-made catastrophes and availability of food to our populations. Drilling oil in Lake Malawi is not a sustainable economic development.