Members of Environmental Justice and Sustainability Clinic at the Faculty of Law, Chancellor College on Saturday marched on the streets over the continued degradation of Zomba Mountain, an ecosystem that is a lifeline for the city’s population. The march ended at the District Commissioner’s office’s where a petition was presented to the attention of Minister of Forestry and Natural Resources.
Zomba Mountain supports Southern Region Water Board Mulunguzi dam, a reservoir that provides the city’s population with clean and potable water. This unique ecosystem also provides opportunities for thriving eco-tourism with a vibrant hotel operating on the top. The Massif is also unique in that it supports diverse plant species including birdlife plus irrigation and fish farming among farmers.
President of Environmental and Justice Sustainability Clinic at Chancellor College, Zaib Master who presented the petition to District Commissioner, Smart Gwedemula told AEJ, Online News immediately after she handed the petition that as young people, they have an obligation to save the environment which is their future.
"We're doing this to protect our future, the laws exist to protect us. We are simply raising awareness because those laws are not being enforced. The way our environment is being affected is something we simply can't accept. We'll do all we can to incite change, especially through marches like these." Master a law student explained in an interview.
Zomba District Commissioner, Smart Gwedemula who received the petition thanked the members of the clinic and assured them the petition will be delivered to the Ministry through the Director of Forestry, Clement Chilima who was present during the handover ceremony.
Chilima who the Mountain falls under his jurisdiction expressed satisfaction with the way the students raised awareness on the scale of challenges facing the Mountain. He added that the march raised the important role played by the mountain in providing ecosystem services to the surrounding populations.
The petition which AEJ Online News has seen laments that over the years Zomba Plateau and the surrounding areas has been subjected to excessive logging. Although some logging is endorsed by government there are some cases being conducted illegally without authority’s approval.
“The lack of enforcement on the regulations surrounding logging has led to rampant and tragic deforestation of the plateau and entire mountain area. In addition, recent fires that have ravaged the mountain are due to the lack of resources dedicated to fire prevention and fire-fighting. This has direly affected the ecosystem and natural beauty of the plateau as well as many aspects of life in Zomba city. As a consequence of the deforestation and degradation of the forest, Mulunguzi Dam has now suffered the lowest ever water level to be recorded,” reads the petition in part.
The clinic hopes their efforts to scale-up awareness will have an impact at national level, and that it will attract attention of the Ministry of Forestry and Natural Resources.
In 1992 Chancellor College closed due to water scarcity as the Mulunguzi dam had completely dried in response to 1991 and 1992 drought, according to Professor Sosten Chiotha, Regional Director of the Leadership for Environment and Development, a think- tank in the sector of environmental sustainability.
Chiotha who has conducted studies under the Lake Chilwa Basin Climate Change Programme and follows the basin environment developments provided background that the Mulunguzi Dam was constructed in 1950 for reliable water supply even when river flow falls below requirement. He added that by 1984 water demand had increased to 8,000 m3/day and the projection was 11,000 m3/day in 1995 and then 14,000m3/day by 2005.
However due to population growth and service area expansion in the city and beyond coupled with climate change and environmental degradation taking its toll the dam is now over stretched in the supply context.
“We can increase the size of the dam by depth from the engineering perspective. But we must realise that catchment area needs to wear green to provide cover so that rain water is harvested and utilised as it is needed. This is not possible with a bare catchment area and it has consequences on water table including siltation on the reservoir, when the land is bare.” Chiotha provided insights.
Environmental law student’s decision to establish an Environment Justice and Sustainability Clinic was mooted in 2014. The establishment was motivated by a growing desire on the part of students to contribute to sustainable development by acting as change agents in addressing the deteriorating state of the environment in Malawi.
Photos : Jarson Malowa, Association of Environmental Journalists