Figure: National Overview Map
Malawi is part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and is located in the eastern part of southern Africa. Malawi has a total area of 118,480 km2, of which the land area is 94,276 km2 with the rest of the area is covered by water, mainly Lake Malawi.
1.1.2. Riparian States
Malawi is a land-locked country, bordered to the north and northeast by the United Republic of Tanzania; to the east, south, and southwest by the People’s Republic of Mozambique; and to the west and northwest by the Republic of Zambia.
Malawi’s most striking topographic feature is the Rift Valley, which runs the entire length of the country, passing through Lake Malawi in the Northern and Central Regions to the Shire Valley in the south. Malawi has four recognised main physiographic zones, namely the highland, the plateau, the escarpment and the rift valley floor. The highland areas range from 1,500 - 3,000 m above sea level whilst the plateau areas range from 900–1,500 m above sea level. The rift valley floor ranges from about 500 m ASL at the lakeshore to about 50 m above sea level in the lower Shire valley.
The quality of both surface and groundwater resources in Malawi is generally adequate for a wide range of uses. However, increasing sediment loads due to upper catchment degradation and deforestation are now threatening water quality in a number of catchments. Increased runoff is also concerning, with an increase in agrochemical and mining effluents, as well as poor waste management and industrial effluents in urban areas. Sediment core data and historic phytoplankton data suggest that Lake Malawi is seeing an increase of nutrient inputs. Because of its low outflow, this is concerning as nutrients and other chemicals essentially are trapped in the Lake. If development is allowed to occur as predicted, with little additional water quality protection or catchment management, there is projected to be a significant deterioration in both surface and groundwater quality by 2020 across the majority of basins (ibid). If left unmanaged, it is predicted that this deterioration could mean that raw water quality in most catchments will be categorised as unsuitable for use in most sectors by 2035.
The national mean annual rainfall in Malawi is estimated at about 1,100 mm/year, with the average annual rainfall varying from 650 mm in the Lower Shire Valley to 1,600 mm in the Northern Lakeshore Region (Government of Malawi, 2011:7). About 70% of the country receives 800 to 1,200 mm per year. While this is relatively good rainfall (the second highest in the SADC region), Malawi has one of the most erratic rainfall patterns in Africa and this poses one of the biggest threats to economic growth (ibid). Despite the number and widespread nature of surface waterbodies in Malawi, the availability and reliability of surface water is highly variable due to climatological extremes between the wet and dry seasons and from year to year and poor infrastructure for water distribution.
Table 1 below shows the actual yield in each of the 17 WRAs in Malawi. There are two main types of catchments in Malawi (Government of Malawi, 2011:51):
Table 1: Summary of available surface water yields (2010 [Government of Malawi, 2011:53])
In an average dry season, national surface water resource availability is estimated to be approximately 42,500 Ml/d as shown in figure 2 below (Government of Malawi, 2011). This is dominated by the River Shire catchment (WRA 1) downstream of Lake Malawi. This dominance increases between wet and dry seasons. There is currently little surface water resource available during the dry season of extreme drought conditions, although some WRAs do retain some limited resource availability (ibid).
Figure 2: National level, total surface water yield assessment (sub-divided)
In order to better understand the geographical distribution of resources, the analysis shown in Figure 2 above shows the WRAs draining to the lake separated from those in the downstream or southern (isolated) catchments (i.e. WRA 1, 2, 11 and 14). The majority of catchments display a strong seasonal difference between average wet and dry seasons, although a number of WRAs display high baseflow and retain flows during dry season conditions either due to natural or artificial controls.
The major water uses in Malawi are irrigated agriculture and water supply for domestic, municipal and industrial uses. In addition, fishing plays an important role in the livelihoods of those who dwell around the Lake basins and beyond. Furthermore, water is also used for recreational purposes and tourism. Finally, water is used for power generation where up to 98% of electricity produced in Malawi comes from hydroelectric plants on the Shire River.
Figure 3: Total Average Water Demand (Ml/d) per use sector (Government of Malawi, 2011:64)
The overall water demand forecast in 2010 is illustrated in Figure 3, showing the demand during an annual average condition and water use by sector. This figure shows the proportion that each sector of the economy contributes to the overall demand for water and the total demands nationally. In 2010, the total unconstrained annual average water demand (net of returns to the catchment from irrigation) was estimated at 2,900 Ml/d. This value should be considered relative to the available surface water yield of 64,000 Ml/d and the sustainable groundwater yield of approximately 1,320 Ml/d. Therefore, it is apparent on an annual average basis there is sufficient resource nationally to meet estimated water demands, but the geographical location and quality of the water resources may still constrain usage.
According to the 2008 population census, the population of Malawi was about 13,077,160, an increase of 32% from the census undertaken in 1998 and an increase of 64% from that taken in 1987 just after completion of the last national water resources assessment, the National Water Resources Master Plan (1986). Population density increased from 105 persons per square kilometre in 1998 to 139 persons per square kilometre in 2008.
Malawi’s population is spread across three regions, Northern, Central and Southern, and these regions are divided into 28 districts. There is a critical need to supply water to all of these people in these different areas, as well as to provide the water required for their economic activities (including agriculture, industry, tourism, manufacturing etc.).
Table 2: Demographic indicators for Malawi between 1966 and 2008 (Government of Malawi, 2010:2).
Table 3 shows the percent distribution of households by wealth quintile, according to residence and region. The distributions indicate the degree to which wealth is evenly (or unevenly) distributed geographically. The table shows that urban areas have a higher proportion of people in the highest quintile (66 percent) compared with rural areas (11 percent).
Table 3: Percent distribution of the de jure population by wealth quintiles and the Gini Coefficient, according to residence and region
On the other hand, rural areas have a higher proportion of the population in the lowest, second, and third quintiles than urban areas. The fourth quintile contains an equal percentage of households for both urban and rural areas (20 percent).
The Northern Region has the highest proportion of persons in the fourth and highest quintiles while the Central Region has the lowest proportion of the population in these quintiles. The proportion of households in the lowest and second quintiles is highest in the Central Region followed by the Southern Region, while the Northern Region contributes the lowest proportion of households (ibid).
Regarding occupations in Malawi, more than half of women are employed in the agricultural sector, and a quarter of women are employed in sales and services (58 and 25 percent, respectively) (Government of Malawi, 2010:34-35). Seven percent of women are engaged in both skilled and unskilled manual jobs. Forty-two percent of women with more than secondary school education are in professional, technical, or managerial occupations (ibid). On the other hand, 69 percent of women with no education and 62 percent of women with a primary school education are employed in the agricultural sector.
Findings for men are similar to those for women, where the highest proportion of men aged 15-49 work in agriculture (49 percent). Eighteen percent of men work as skilled labourers, followed by 16 percent of men in sales and services (ibid). The trends in occupation type by the level of education are very similar to those for women. The majority of men with more than a secondary education (45 percent) are in the professional, technical, or managerial occupations, while 65 percent of men with no education have agricultural occupations.
Given that fish is an essential part of the diet of the population in Malawi, supplying most of the animal protein consumed especially for low-income households, the sector is a significant contributor to the economy (World Bank, 2004). More than 90 percent of the catch is landed by the artisanal fisheries sector; and it is estimated that about 250,000 to 300,000 people from the primary and secondary sectors depend on the success and failure of the industry (ibid).
The economy of Malawi is based primarily on agriculture, which accounts for 30 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The country’s major exports are tobacco, tea, and sugar. They account for approximately 85 percent of Malawi’s domestic exports. In 2009, the agricultural sector achieved growth of 13.9 percent. Tobacco production was high following favourable prices that were offered at auction in the 2008 marketing season. In 2010, estimated growth slowed to 1.3 percent because of dry spells and heavy rains. Malawi experienced a food surplus during the 2008-2009 growing season due to favourable weather and the benefits of the government’s Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP). These events led to the financial growth that occurred during the 2009-2010 fiscal year. The fisheries industry contributes up to 2.5% of GDP and employing over 300,000 people in Malawi.
Almost all of the water resources in Malawi are shared with its neighbouring states. Ninety-four percent of the country is located within the Zambezi Basin. This raises an important issue related to the scope of Malawi’s duties under international water law with respect to defining transboundary catchments. Pursuant to the SADC Protocol and the ZAMCOM Agreement (which, it should be noted, Malawi has yet to ratify), Malawi is under an obligation to develop its waters in a “reasonable and equitable” manner. Unilateral development in any of Malawi’s basins must account for the international responsibility to identify potential transboundary impacts and to notify and consult with the potentially impacted riparians should such impacts be likely. This does not mean that Malawi is entirely limited in its ability to develop domestic waters, rather that transboundary considerations must be mainstreamed into water-related decision-making in order to ensure that international obligations are met. Even where impacts are likely, there may also be developments allowable under the criteria of reasonableness and equity. This is a case-by-case determination that will need to be made pursuant to the criteria set forth in the SADC Protocol (and, if Malawi ratifies it, the ZAMCOM Agreement). The Transboundary Water Resources Management Unit in the Department of Water Resources will play an important role in ensuring that these considerations are taken into account and in making final determinations with respect to what the international obligations require of the Government of Malawi.
The country’s largest water complex – the Lake Malawi-Shire River Basin – is shared with Tanzania and Mozambique. A long-standing border dispute between Tanzania and Malawi has led the two countries to seek dispute resolution, an issue that has repercussions for Malawi’s ability to manage its shared watercourses effectively. Despite this issue, the two countries are cooperating on the Songwe River , which forms the border between the Malawi and Tanzania in northern Malawi. The Songwe River Basin Development Programme (SRBDP) was initiated in response to a study to address the frequent shifting of the international border as the River meandered seasonally. The SRBDP is facilitating the joint planning and investment frameworks and the establishment of a Songwe River Basin Commission. Finally, Lake Chiuta is shared between Malawi and Mozambique, and Lake Chilwa’s wetlands cross those same borders.
Within the SADC region, Malawi is part of other initiatives such as the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) initiative and the FAO-supported Convention on the Management of Lake Malawi/Nyasa for Sustainable Development. This indicates that the Malawi government is taking an initiative in the protection of the ecosystem (SANWATCE, 2013). On a bilateral level, Malawi is implementing a project for the stabilization of the Songwe River course jointly with the United Republic of Tanzania, through the Malawi/United Republic of Tanzania Joint Permanent Commission of Cooperation (JPCC). The agreement on the establishment of a Joint Water Commission between Malawi and Mozambique was signed in November of 2003 and the two countries are in the process of finalizing a Convention on the Establishment of a Joint Songwe River Basin Commission.
In the past, unsuccessful attempts have been made to establish more formal cooperation within the Lake Malawi Basin. Specifically, from 1994-1999, the Global Environment Facility funded the Lake Malawi/Nyasa Biodiversity Conservation Project, the objective of which was to assist Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania in “creating the scientific, educational, and policy basis required to ensure conservation of the biological diversity and unique ecosystem” of the Lake. An independent review of the project found that while the research and capacity building components were mostly successful in achieving high international standards, national budgets were insufficient to maintain active Lake research once the project ended. Moreover, the management planning process was incomplete and what was meant to be an exercise in joint planning ultimately polarized the riparians. This was attributed to funding being channelled through Malawi and to the sense that there was insufficient objective review of the management process. It was also noted that the planning and consultation necessary for the effective creation of a regional institution for international water management was not undertaken and there was a need for trilateral agreement in the form of a legal framework with protocols on communication.
Malawi is a Member States of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) , and has ratified the (Revised) Protocol on Shared Watercourses in the Southern African Development Community (2000. This framework treaty governs transboundary water management throughout the region. It encourages the conclusion of basin-specific legal agreements among basin states, but in absence of such agreements, the Protocol still has several obligations and commitments to guide transboundary water management in those basins.
Malawi has yet to ratify any transboundary basin agreements, although it has signed the ZAMCOM agreement (governing the Zambezi Basin) and is in the process of concluding a Convention for the Songwe River Commission with neighboring Tanzania. The SADC Protocol, therefore, is the defining legal framework outlining the commitments and obligations of Malawi with respect to its transboundary water resources. Below is a brief description of the content of the Protocol.
The Revised SADC Protocol entered into force in 2000. It is a framework treaty, in that it encourages Member States to conclude more specific agreements at the basin level. It does, however, provide detailed guidance on key principles of international water law that create specific obligations for Member States even in absence of such agreements. The overall objective of the SADC Protocol is to “foster closer cooperation for judicious, sustainable and coordinated management, production and utilisation of shared watercourses and advance the agenda of regional integration and poverty alleviation.” Specifically, it aims to:
In Article 3 the Protocol outlines the general principles of the treaty, which apply to all actions of Members States in their use, development and management of transboundary watercourses. These principles include:
These final two principles, that of equitable and reasonable utilisation and that of prevention of significant harm, are particularly important as the two primary principles of international water law more generally. The Protocol provides a list of factors to be considered in assessing the equity and reasonableness of uses. It also provides that, should significant harm be caused despite best efforts, that there is an obligation to cooperate to eliminate or mitigate the harm, or to discuss compensation.
Article 4 of the Protocol outlines the specific obligations of Member States with respect to:
As noted above, Malawi has yet to ratify any basin-specific agreements with its co-riparians. Malawi has signed the Agreement on the Establishment of the Zambezi Watercourse Commission (ZAMCOM Agreement). It is also in the process of finalizing a Convention for the Songwe River Basin Commission (Songwe Convention). The ZAMCOM Agreement is discussed below, while the Songwe Convention is discussed in further detail in the Technical Brief on the Songwe Basin. Additionally, noted above, historical attempts at establishing a Lake Malawi/Nyasa Basin Commission have been unsuccessful and ongoing dialogue is mainly focused on resolving the border issue between Malawi and Tanzania.
Formal cooperation on the Zambezi began in the 1950s, when the Kariba Dam was built. In 1987, Zimbabwe and Zambia established the Zambezi River Authority to oversee the operations of the Dam. Discussions over a basin-wide authority began in the 1980s, but were suspended while the SADC regional institutional and legal frameworks were put into place. Formal negotiations on establishing ZAMCOM recommenced in 2002, and the Agreement was signed in 2004 with entry into force in 2011.
The ZAMCOM Agreement established the Commission, outlining its functions and provides a number of procedural and substantive mandates for the basin states. In line with both customary international law and the SADC Protocol, the overall objective is to promote the equitable and reasonable utilization of the water resources of the Zambezi, as well as their efficient management and sustainable development. Member States are required to manage and utilize their portion of the resource in an equitable and reasonable manner, and to jointly take all precautionary and preventive measures to avoid significant harm to the resource. Member States are also required to comply with notification and consultation requirements when planning developments that may cause significant harm to the Basin and to exchange information regularly among them.
The specific obligations in the ZAMCOM Agreement then go beyond those in the SADC Protocol, obligating States Parties to “take all appropriate technical, legislative, administrative and other measures in the utilisation of the Zambezi watercourse to:”
The level of coordination and integration required is quite advanced and has many implications for the national legal and regulatory systems of its Member States. Malawi will need to carefully assess these implications once it decides to ratify the Agreement.
184.108.40.206. SADC Fisheries Protocol
In recognition of the critical role of fisheries in the social and economic wellbeing and livelihoods of SADC Member States, the SADC Fisheries Protocol was concluded in 2001. The overall objective of the Fisheries Protocol is to promote responsible and sustainable use of living aquatic resources and ecosystems of Member States in order to promote and enhance food security and human health; safeguard livelihoods; generate economic opportunity; and contribute to poverty alleviation.
In the case of internationally shared fisheries, the Protocol requires Parties to cooperate to ensure that its objectives are achieved. States Parties to the Fisheries Protocol are mandated to “take appropriate measures and regulate the use of living aquatic resources and protect the resources against over-exploitation, whilst creating an enabling environment and building capacity for the sustainable utilization of the resources.” (Art. 4(3)). Where fisheries are shared internationally, this must include efforts to harmonize laws, policies, plans and programmes on fisheries at the international level (Art. 5(1); Art. 8). Additionally, states are required to share information on the state of the shared resources, levels of fishing effort, monitoring and control activities, and plans for expanded fishing activities (Art. 7(3)). The Protocol encourages States Parties that share fisheries resources to establish specific instruments (e.g., legal agreements, management plans, or joint management/advisory bodies) for coordination, cooperation, or integration of their management (Art. 7(4).
220.127.116.11. Ramsar Convention on Wetlands
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands is an international treaty that provides a framework for both national action and international cooperation for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and their resources. The Convention entered into force in Malawi in 1997. Parties to the Convention are committed to work towards the “wise use” of all of their wetlands through national planning, appropriate policies and legislation, and management actions; to designate suitable wetlands for the List of Wetlands of International Importance and ensure their effective management; and to cooperate internationally concerning transboundary wetlands, shared wetland systems, shared species and development projects that may impact wetlands.
Malawi presently has one site – Lake Chilwa – designated on the List of Wetlands of International Importance. The Lake Chilwa Basin is shared by Malawi and Mozambique and is home to important fisheries (contributing 25-30% of Malawi’s annual fish production), habitat for migratory birds and important areas for agricultural cultivation.
18.104.22.168. Convention on Biological Diversity
The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) entered into force in 1993 and was ratified by Malawi in 1994. Its three main goals include the conservation of biological diversity; the sustainable use of the components of biological diversity; and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.
Malawi’s transboundary water resources are home to important biological diversity and are thus directly impacted by the provisions of the CBD. Lake Malawi is home to the highest diversity of cichlids in the world and boasts 15% of the world’s freshwater fish (Malawi NBSAP 2006). As noted above, Lake Chilwa is a globally important bird habitat and home to diverse species dependent on the wetlands resources.
The implementation of the CBD in Malawi is guided by the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP), which is overseen by an inter-Ministerial National Biodiversity Steering Committee. The focal point within the government is the Environmental Affairs Department of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. The NBSAP includes a chapter on aquatic biodiversity that identifies a number of priority actions related to increased protection, restoration and policy and legal coherence to ensure the sustainable use and conservation of Malawi’s aquatic biodiversity. The NBSAP acknowledges the need for international cooperation where these resources are shared across borders.
4.2.4. National laws
In 2013, Malawi passed the National Water Resources Act to bring its national water law into alignment with its water policies and to reform its institutional frameworks to better enable integrated water resources management throughout the country. Article 141 of the Act enables the Minister to establish bodies to implement international or regional agreements related to the management and development of water resources. This authority is the basis for the establishment of the Transboundary Water Resources Management Unit (TWRMU) in the Department of Water Resources. There are no specific functions outlined in the national legislation with respect to these bodies.
With respect to internationally-shared fisheries, Part XIII of Malawi’s Fisheries Conservation and Management Act (1997) grants the Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development the authority to: enter into fisheries access agreements with other States to regulate access and catch levels within shared resources; to enter into joint planning and management arrangements for shared waterbodies; and to establish joint permanent fora for the review and implementation of such plans.
4.3. SADC RSAP III and Implications for Malawi
The SADC RSAP III talks about shared water courses. An important vehicle of implementing this policy is the existence of a well-functioning RBO mandated by the protocol and operating under sound legislation, as well as systems to involve stakeholders in the planning processes (SADC, 2005; see also SANWATCE, 2013).
According to the SADC RSAP III, the individual, organisational and institutional capacities of RBOs are strengthened to improve the sustainable, equitable and efficient management of shared water courses.
Key activities of the RSAP III include:
A great part of Malawi’s water resources, such as Lake Malawi, Lake Chilwa, Lake Chiuta, and Shire, Ruo and Songwe Rivers are shared with the neighbouring countries of Mozambique and the United Republic of Tanzania as transboundary and cross-boundary waters (ibid). So far, no major conflicts have arisen over the utilization of these resources. However, in order to avoid potential conflicts, Malawi is signatory to a number of international treaties and conventions, including the SADC Protocol on Shared Watercourses and the 1997 UN Convention of Non-navigational Uses of International Waters.
With Lake Malawi and the Shire River system being a sub-basin of the Zambezi watercourse, Malawi is actively participating in the on-going negotiations for the establishment of the ZAMCOM. Within the SADC region, Malawi is also part of other initiatives such as the SIDA initiative and the FAO-supported Convention on the Management of Lake Malawi/Nyasa for Sustainable Development. At a bilateral level, Malawi is implementing a project for the stabilization of the Songwe River course jointly with the United Republic of Tanzania, through the Malawi/the United Republic of Tanzania JPCC, and is negotiating with Mozambique for the establishment of a Joint Water Commission.
 Water Resources Investment Strategy. Component 1 – Water Resources Assessment. Main Report (2011:7).
 Water Resources Investment Strategy. Component 1 – Water Resources Assessment. Main Report (2011: xv).
 Water Resources Investment Strategy. Component 1 – Water Resources Assessment. Main Report (2011)
 Malawi Demographic and Health Survey, 2010.
 Malawi Demographic and Health Survey, 2010
 Malawi Demographic and Health Survey, 2010
 World Bank. 2004. Malawi - Institutionalizing Traditional Community-Based Natural Resource Management. Washington, DC. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/10773 License: CC BY 3.0 Unported.
 SANWATCE in collaboration with AU/NEPAD 2013 Malawi Country Water Resource Profile. AU/NEPAD SANWATCE