As one of the followers of your column, I was very interested to read your article on Saturday [February 11 2017) titled Tread cautiously on the Salima-Lilongwe water project.
Let me start by agreeing with your observations that heavy drawing of water from Lake Malawi will result in reducing water levels of the Lake Malawi and Shire River thereby affecting hydroelectricity generation which Malawi depends on. Reduction of water levels in the lake and Shire River will not only affect power generation but will also affect the same Salima-Lilongwe water project.
Considering the terrain between Lilongwe and Salima, the project will need heavy duty water pumps to move water from the lake up to a certain point in Dowa where gravity can take over. Obviously, this arrangement will need huge amount of electricity to sustain all the water pumps the project will require which at this point I am not sure on the source of the electricity.
Going back in history, in the years between 1915 and 1935, the level of Lake Malawi extremely reduced to the extent that there was no outflow of water from the lake to the Shire River. These natural scenarios have their own return periods (reoccurrence period). Therefore starting the Salima-Lilongwe water project while ignoring the history of Shire River and Lake Malawi is a huge mistake, the designers of the Salima-Lilongwe project need to take this into consideration and provide recommendations to the decision-makers.
Several studies have provided suggestions on this and one of them is to stabilise Lake Malawi water levels and Shire River flows by constructing water flow regulation barrage at the outlet/source of Shire River so that water flowing into the Shire River from the lake can be regulated and controlled. This Shire River flow control will among other things benefit Salima-Lilongwe project, flood protection, irrigation, hydropower generation and inland navigation. It can be argued that we already have Kamuzu Barrage at Liwonde. My view is that the operation of the Kamuzu Barrage only affects flows downstream and not Lake Malawi levels, and on the other hand, Kamuzu Barrage has a limited level at which water can be controlled otherwise it can cause floods at Liwonde township, Mangochi boma and villages around Lake Malombe.
I am, therefore, sharing the same observation that Salima-Lilongwe water project should be handled with extra caution.
Thank you Mr. Imran Yasin. I hope you also read the article by Associate Professor Kenneth Wiyo which we serialized in the last two issues of this paper. In the article, Wiyo, who teaches water and irrigation issues at Bunda Campus, Luanar—asks 10 critical questions about the project. Find time to read the article if you haven’t already read it. It was published under Weekend Investigates.
It is extremely important that we continue to give room to the discourse on this project which is expected to consume a jaw-dropping K400 billion—slightly over a third of the whole 2016/17 national budget.
In his Mid-Year Budget Review Minister of Finance, Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe listed under Development Account some vital projects government will launch in the second half of the fiscal year. “Notably, the following are likely to commence shortly: Salima-Lilongwe Water project whose pipeline will also serve and provide irrigation water in between hinter lands populations. Other projects are the Mponela Hospital, the Kasungu/Msulira/Nkhotakota Road, the Nkhata Bay Jetty, Chileka-Mpatamanga road, and the Mzuzu Airport rehabilitation Project.” The fact that the Salima-Lilongwe water project is one of the five priority projects expected to start in the next six months shows the premium and urgency government has put on it.
Yet sadly, there is no telling from the statement what will constitute the said preparatory works. Will these “preparatory works” allay the fears Wiyo et al (and of course you, Mr. Yassin) have expressed? We took these questions to Lilongwe Water Board and the Department of Water Development to give their side of the story but they have not responded. We now give them the floor.