WATERS, WINDS AND FIRES
Malawi, a landlocked country situated in Southern Africa has borders with Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique. The climate is sub-tropical with one rainy and one dry season a year. It is one of the most densely populated and least developed countries in the world. The country is based on an agricultural economy with the agricultural sector contributing over 35 percent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Agricultural exports also account for over 70 percent of the country’s foreign exchange earnings, with tobacco accounting for approximately 65 percent of the country’s export earnings. The population is over 14 million people, of which over 80 percent are rural-based and depend on subsistence farming as their main source of livelihood. GDP per capita for Malawi is US$2761. On the human Development Index, Malawi, with an HDI of 493 ranked 160th out of 182 countries with 65.3% of the population below poverty line. HIV prevalence is at 11.9%: a rate which both fuels and is fueled by poverty.
Data related to human and economic losses from disasters that have occurred between 1982 and 2007.
Precise data of the yearly impact of floods in terms of deaths and numbers of people affected is not available in official publications. However, it is quite apparent that the nature and pattern of weather related hazards are changing, becoming more frequent, intense and unpredictable. For example between 1970 and 2006 Malawi experienced 40 weather-related disasters, but 16 of these occurred after 1990. More importantly the number of people affected by these disasters has increased sharply since 1990. The geographical coverage of floods has also increased. Before 2001 only nine districts in Malawi were classified as flood-prone. In 2001, 16 districts were reported as flood affected, and a further 14 districts in 2002.
Precise yearly data on the number of deaths and affected population by disasters has not been made available officially. Drought is, undoubtedly the greatest threat in terms of geographical range and economic effect. The risk management company Software Inc. (RMSI), which generates global geospatial information and, in addition to other analysis, has recently carried out an historical assessment of meteorological droughts, studying their frequency and spatial distribution characteristics based on Standard Precipitation Index (SPI) time series. The study showed that Malawi was worst affected by the droughts of 1987, 1992, 1994, 2004, and 2005. The major droughts in the past 50 years were experienced in (1948/49 and 1991/92) While meteorological droughts of 1992, 1994 and 2005 were national level events, the droughts during 1987 and 2004 were local in their spatial nature.
Scientific information regarding Malawi’s vulnerability to earthquakes shows that the risk of earthquakes is low. However, in 1989 an earthquake of magnitude 6.1 on the Richter scale occurred in the Salima area, killing 9 people and affecting over 50 000 people. The damage caused was estimated at US$28 million.