For fisher Abdallah Mwanyasire of Nkhotakota, being able to survive is dependent on one thing: getting his ugged canoe and row it hundreds of kilometres off the shores of Lake Malawi to catch fish.
Since the onset of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic in Malawi in early March and the already dwindling fortunes in terms of fish catches, his only source of income has dried up.
The father of five, who lives in Kumperembe Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Malengachanzi, solely depends on fishing.
With no adherence to social or physical distancing precautionary measures and a lack of hand-washing facilities at their fish landing beach, Chipala, Mwanyasire admits that fishers are risking their lives amid the pandemic to fend for their families.
He says: “I know that this virus is deadly. But we have no other source of livelihood other than fishing. We risk our lives for the sake of our families.”
Days after Minister of Health Jappie Mhango announced a three-week lockdown as a precautionary measure to contain Covid-19 that has since not yet rolled out due to a court order by the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC) and other citizens, Mwanyasire says he was worried.
“So, I started wondering as to how we would survive during the lockdown. The future seemed bleak. The announcement sent waves of panic across the country,” he says.
As the coronavirus cases in the country rise, imposing a lockdown on the 17.6 million people has been a challenge, especially to daily income earners.
With very little savings and a poor social security safetynet, families in rural areas are having fewer meals and borrowing money just to sustain them.
Christina Kaingwe, a fish trader from Vinthenga Village, says she fears the virus may easily spread because of overcrowding at Nkhotakota Main Market.
The single mother says she earns K25 000 a month, but it barely covers expenses for her family of three.
“We are at risk of contracting the virus if it spreads. The market is overcrowded and here at the lake, we scramble for fish which makes it very easy to be infected,” she says.
Nkh o t a ko t a d i s t r i c t fisheries officer Simon Ngwira acknowledges that they are struggling to enforce the safety measures.
But he says together with stakeholders, they are working to raise awareness on the need to adhere to the measures.
Said Ngwira: “It is a concern indeed to our sector, considering the importance of fish resource and the dependence level on fish for people living along the shores in the district.
“Social distancing is not being observed and as a sector, through Ripple Africa and Pact, we have embarked on strengthening sensi t isat ion campaigns, distribution of flyers and sanitary materials in all landing sites.
“This is not only for fisheries sector but also as a district all stakeholders should come together to enforce the Covid-19 measures to save the lives of people.”n