Mposa beach on the shores of Lake Chilwa in the eastern Malawi district of Machinga used to be a haven for John Ngwenya. It is now turning into a waste land, a complete hell.
Born on October 24, 32 years ago, in Mposa Village, located almost 800 metres from the beach, Ngwenyaâ€™s family, even his grandparents, have always looked to the lake for their survival.
â€œI learnt fishing from my father. Everything we needed as children, my father would provide from fishing proceeds,â€ he says while attending to canoes stranded on dry grounds.
Ngwenya grew up thinking that fishing in Lake Chilwa was the familyâ€™s God-given way of income generation and survival.
As a result, he did not pay much attention to school. He dropped out in Form 2 at the age of 23 after impregnating a Standard Eight girl.
â€œI wasnâ€™t worried at all. By then, I had already mastered the art of fishing and I was making money out of it,â€ he adds.
His confidence was, again, rooted in the fact that even before he took the girl home, he already owned a small hut from proceeds of fishing.
â€œI had everything a man in the village would need to get married,â€ he says.
So, equipped with a small piece of land along the Lake Chilwa Basin where his wife would cultivate some maize, Ngwenya, through fishing on the Mposa beach, was able to meet his familyâ€™s needs.
Unfortunately, Lake Chilwa, the gold behind his family happiness, is drying and everyone can see it. That comfortable life for Ngwenya is waning, and fast.
Professor Sosten Chiotha, an expert with the Lake Chilwa Basin Climate Change Adaptation Programme (LCBCCAP), is on record as having said the lake would dry up completely by next year if the low rainfall in the area continued.
In 1995, the lake dried up completely following a drought. For two consecutive years, the rainfall was between 775 mm and 748 mm.
The Malawi Meteorological Services records that for the past two years, Lake Chilwaâ€™s catchment area has recorded less than 1 000 millimetres of rain.
Tragically, the drying up is well evident if you are standing on the beaches of Mposa.
Water levels have drastically gone down. You can walkâ€”an estimated 9 km journeyâ€”into the lake without getting to water.
â€œFishing, I should be honest with you, is getting harder with each passing day as the water continues to move further away from my beach. The catch has dwindled heavily. You canâ€™t even manage an average of 70 fish per week compared to hundreds we fished in past years,â€ Ngwenya complains.
Statistics show that about 17 000 tonnes of fish, or 20 percent of all the fish caught in Malawi, comes from the lake.
The magnitude of the tragedy of business and survival befalling Ngwenya is mostly hidden in the thousands that share his story.
Up to 1.5 million inhabitants from districts of Machinga, Phalombe and Zomba benefit directly from the 60km by 40km lake.
In search for survival, most families are relocating to other beaches such as Swangoma, Chisi and Kachulu in Phalombe in search of new fishing grounds and good farmland.
â€œI have relations in Swangoma. I once went there to find possibilities of relocation. The challenge is that everybody from here is doing that,â€ he says.
Despite thatâ€”and again even when he knows that conflicts have already started arising from the relocationâ€”Ngwenya admits he remains without option but to relocate.
â€œItâ€™s either I languish here with my family or relocate. The problem is that without formal training, I canâ€™t migrate to the city and fetch employment. Itâ€™s just a nail on the coffin,â€ he says.
There is a big challenge with relocation, notes Chiotha, who is also a regional director of the Leadership of Environment and Development in Southern and Eastern Africa (LEAD-SEA) in an interview with IPS.
â€œThe movement is also causing congestion and potential conflict,â€ he said.
Already, says Ngwenya, some families are locked in land disputes in Chisi because of the ones that are relocating.
But is relocation a solution?
In an interview with The Nation in July this year, Dr Clement Chilima, deputy director of forestry at the Forestry Research Institute of Malawi, said they are working with communities to fight climate change effects by urging them to plant trees 15 metres away from the lake banks to save it.
In fact, even LEAD-SEA is implementing adaptation measures to help locals cope with the low rainfall and the drying lake.
But that, according to locals, is long term.
â€œIt is not that we value relocation. You know it is tough to be accepted in a new land against a background of a complete dry up of the lake. They, too, need some space to survive.
â€œBut when the lake is your only source of hope and survival, you just donâ€™t have any option. I think we need to share the resources,â€ says Wilson Kamangira, another fisherman from Mposa Village.
And how will they share?
â€œWe need authorities, such as government, to intervene. There are a lot of lives at stake here. The authorities, if possible, could help to arbitrate with communities to accept each other as temporary solution in this adjustment period,â€ says Ngwenya.
As people like Ngwenya continue to wait for answers, the lake, too, continues to dry up. Soon it will be a waste land, desolate and devoid of life.
How will people like Ngwenya survive?