Thazima water scheme uplifts livelihoods in Malawi’s rural communities


Myburgh, CEO of Peace Parks Foundation unveils the Thazima Water Scheme with the Vera Kamtukule, Minister of Tourism

The Thazima Gravity-Fed Potable Water Supply Scheme has been launched at Mwazisi in Rumphi and it is expected to benefit more than 18,000 people in Malawi who currently face extreme difficulty and danger in the pursuit of clean drinking water.

The project launching ceremony took place on April 20 at Mwazisi in Rumphi District and was officiated by the Minister of Tourism, the Honourable Vera Kamtukule, as well as other governments officials from Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), District Councils, Members of Parliament and the project implementer Peace Parks Foundation.

This marks the beginning of the extensive water system’s construction, which is planned to be completed within the next year.

“Peace Parks has been involved in the management and development of this unique and vital area since 2015 when we facilitated the establishment of the Malawi-Zambia Transfrontier Conservation Area. It is remarkable to see, just eight years down the line, how measurable benefits to people are changing lives and the landscape for the better. The launch of the Thazima Gravity-Fed Water Scheme is a significant milestone marking a point where people have reliable access to water all year round, and can see the concrete benefit of living close to a protected area,” said Werner Myburgh, CEO of Peace Parks Foundation.

The Government of Malawi, through the Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW), has received funding of EUR 4.7 million from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, through the German Development Bank KfW, to provide potable water to the bordering communities of Nyika National Park and Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve. This investment forms part of a broader support to the Nyika National Park and Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve in Malawi and to the Transfrontier Conservation Area between Zambia and Malawi, promoting an integrated approach of biodiversity conservation and local development.

Within the partnership, Peace Parks is responsible for fund management and project implementation, with the DNPW playing a key co-management role on the ground.

Impact areas

Once in place, the scheme will immediately and measurably improve the lives of people who live along the boundaries of the two protected areas in the districts of Rumphi and Mzimba. Whilst there are a number of rivers running from the parks, access to potable water has been an enormous challenge, leaving local people no option but to collect it from within the wildlife-populated protected areas. These journeys are time- and energy-consuming, and pose significant threats from wildlife and the poor quality of the untreated water being consumed from small streams and sparse boreholes. The scheme will tap its water from Runyina River in Nyika by gravity along a 74km transmission line.

“Water is life. It’s unacceptable for a country that has one of the largest sources of fresh water in Africa for its people not to be benefiting from potable water when it’s coming from Nyika – water that can be harnessed and leveraged to give the people access to it. At the moment, Malawi has lost over 1,700 people to cholera and a major problem is that people are not accessing safe potable water. Because of this project we’re going to save many lives caused by water-borne diseases,” said Kamtukele at the launch.

“The water goes a very long way towards improving people’s lives, but also women and girls don’t have to walk long distances; instead, the girls can focus on their education – so the next generation is being impacted already.”

To ensure its longevity and sustainability, the project will also strengthen community governance to empower local water consumers to manage the scheme themselves.

Promoting human-wildlife coexistence

During recent decades, and in conjunction with a decline in water availability, the area has witnessed an escalation in human-wildlife conflict, mainly from elephant, hippo and buffalo, bringing with it a growing concern for wildlife conservation in Malawi.

In response to this unsustainable reality, 2021 and 2022 saw the construction of a 70km solar-powered electric fence around Vwaza Marsh on the Malawian side, providing a game-proof line of protection for local people exposed to life-threatening encounters with wildlife. Whilst this development is already reducing fatalities, the combined benefits of fencing and water infrastructure will further improve safety and promote human-wildlife co-existence.

“Between now and 2050, we anticipate tremendous continued pressure on natural resources. The more we can enable a natural resource to be shared with communities – people living around these protected areas – the more they will benefit which will foster a vested interest in seeing it protected,” said Werner Myburgh.

Following the water scheme launch was an event dedicated to the completion of the fence line, held in the vicinity of the Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve and involving local communities already benefiting from the new protective measures.

The Minister Vera Kamtukule commented, “The two projects we’re celebrating today are of great economic importance but also of historical importance; we’re going to be coming here in the next twenty or thirty years and we’re going to be talking about the great changes brought about by water security and safety alongside wildlife. These are very significant, and the world should know that Malawi is extremely serious as far as conservation is concerned.”

Sustainable water and livelihoods

These water and human-wildlife coexistence projects go hand in hand with a Community Livelihood Programme of EUR 1.3 million for the Malawi component of the TFCA project, co-funded by KfW and the European Union. This programme has already been invested in an estimated 8,000 households within the same target areas, with interventions aimed at water security, sustainable use of natural resources and the promotion of livestock and conservation agriculture schemes. These include climate-smart practices, irrigation farming, beekeeping and growing high-value crops such as chilies, soya and groundnuts. Conservation-friendly farming is practiced across 204 ha with 622 households around Nyika National Park, and 509 ha and 1720 households around Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve, making it a significant contributor to sustainable practices.

“We’d like to express our sincere thanks to the donors and specifically to the German Government and KfW, for what this has meant for conservation, for the livelihoods of people and, critically, for

the co-existence between people and nature; without them, this would not have been possible. The German Government has been with us since 2015 to support Malawi-Zambia Transfrontier Conservation Area when the treaty was signed. Their commitment to date is 26.5 million Euro and we’re now negotiating, once our imminent and very exciting co-management agreement is signed, an investment of a further 33 million Euro, most of which will go into a trust to help finance the management of Nyika and Vwaza for the next thirty years,” acknowledged Werner Myburgh.

A new co-management era

Looking ahead, the scheme comes into action at a seminal time for the two protected areas and those living in their localities. The Government of Malawi, through the DNPW, is this year entering into a uniquely structured 20-year co-management agreement with Peace Parks Foundation, officially joining forces in conserving Nyika National Park and Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve and developing the surrounding community areas. The collaborative venture is paving the way to a unique management of the landscape, through a trust that will embody an innovative and progressive shared governance involving government, communities, the private sector and Peace Parks Foundation. It will bring a new business-like approach based on efficiency and performance, establishing a model that will function to preserve and develop the landscape in perpetuity.

“The launch of this life-changing water scheme in step with the new co-management agreement is a vital reminder that we must keep focusing on empowering people to benefit from their environment and natural resources, while strengthening their role in governance. Looking at the progress already made, and the impact of numerous projects, the motivation for Peace Parks to continue working here with communities, government and investors is powerful. We’re proud to be part of this unfolding chapter, as it puts the communities at the very core of local conservation decisions and actions,” said Werner Myburgh.

Follow us on Twitter: