UNESCO warns Malawi over Mangochi water project


The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Centre mission has warned Malawi Government to follow proper measures on Mangochi water project,  saying the project holds some environmental threat to Nkhudzi Hills in Mangochi district.

This is according to UNESCO’s leader of delegation Dr Peter Howard who made the remarks at a press briefing in Lilongwe on Friday, marking the end of their 5-day mission visit in the country.

Howard told local journalists at the press briefing that building a world heritage site at Nkhudzi hills in Mangochi district is a dangerous precedent Malawi should always try to avoid as the project encompasses some damages to the environment.

He said the project may see part of the lake silting which may later cause extinction of valuable fish species mbuna.

“UNESCO was not informed about the Mangochi Water project well in advance as is required by the international agreements governing such sites.

“Potentially, this development could cause siltation and could damage the fish in the lake, possibly even causing extinction of these valuable, internationally recognized fish, mbuna,” warned Howard.

However, the leader of delegation said if Malawi can follow some outlined mitigation measures to the threat, there is the possibility that the project could be harmless to environment.

“We have observed that the water tank has been well filled with trees and it will not be visible from afar and also the road is being hard surfaced to avoid runoff and siltation of the lake which is very important because it will limit the possible impact,” he said.

Reacting to the development, Minister of Tourism Michael Usi, admitted his ministry faces a serious ethical dilemma but he pointed out that the ministry remains optimistic parties involved will find an amicable solution to make sure the people have water and at the same time the site is protected.

Usi admitted that government erred in commencing the project in a world heritage site without informing UNESCO and added that it is important for all parties involved to avoid politicizing the matter.

“I know politics is a game that can surprise you but much as we would want to push for political mileage, we also need to be sober about it. We made a mistake but let’s take lessons from this. Let’s also not get excited with the minimal damage but also try to avoid setting a bad precedence. At the same time, we have to make sure our people are catered for because water is life,” said Usi.

Meanwhile, the minister has pleaded with the mission to draw favourable recommendations so that the project should continue.

Two weeks ago, High Court judge Mandala Mambulasa, granted an injunction to some CSOs restricting the Southern Region Water Board (SRWB) from executing the project.