On January 24, 2022 tropical storm Ana swept through Malawi, causing heavy rains that led to flooding in the southern region. Over 800,000 people were affected, dozens got injured and about people 40 died. The storm wreaked even more havoc in neighbouring Mozambique - where it had initially made landfall - and on the island nation of Madagascar.
The destruction caused by storm Ana, brought back memories of tropical cyclone Idai, which ravaged southern Malawi in 2019. In addition, it became a much needed wake up call on the need for the country to strengthen its resilience to such weather phenomena.
Now over a month since the disaster struck, many of those who lost their homes and crops to the floods are still living in camps and relying on donations in order to survive.
Recently, the United Nations admitted that the storm that hit southern Africa in January 2022 showed the reality of climate change and the need for countries to invest in climate mitigation, especially now that more tropical cyclones are affecting Africa. While several local organisations have argued that funding for mitigation should come from developed countries which emit the largest amount of greenhouse gases, some young people in Malawi are of the view that the responsibility should not only be left to one part of the world.
Austin Kunsinda who heads the Environmental Concerned Youth Association (ECOYA) says although un- oe underemployed young people can play a bigger role in helping prevent the negative effects of climate change.
“Most of the time, authorities tend to be reactive by trying to find solutions to disasters which could have easily been prevented much sooner. Young people can be in the forefront of activities such as raising awareness, planting more trees, and promoting climate resilient infrastructure,” he explains.
Kunsinda's organisation works with young people around Bangwe township in Blantyre, giving them opportunities to be a part of the change makers in their community. Like many other low income communities in Malawi, water and land pollution is an issue that cannot be ignored. Most of the waste generated in such areas does not get properly disposed of and usually ends up on river banks, drains, streams and canals.
ECOYA works with community leaders who help organise meetings with locals and tree planting exercises around Bangwe township. The youth make up to 46 percent of Malawi’s population. They are affected by climate change impacts more than any other group. Despite this, not enough is being done to make them aware of climate change and how they can take part in turning the situation around.
Environmental activist Maloto Chikombero is of the view that even though Malawi may not have contributed much to climate change, the blame cannot solely be put on highly industrialised countries. He explains that Malawi has in a way also contributed to this crisis by carelessly tolerating practices that cause land degradation, especially in urban settlements. On average, Malawi loses 50,000 hectares of forest every year and every year, millions of trees are planted across the country. Only forty percent of the new trees survive. Most of the trees cut down are used to make charcoal and firewood for domestic use.
By prioritising awareness raising on environmental issues, Chikombero is certain that Malawians would have adequate knowledge and take part in saving the environment.
“The biggest problem that we have in the country is that not every young person has the knowledge required to mitigate environmental degradation and climate change," he says.
"The time is now, for us to be taken more seriously on environmental issues because we are the future and the ones that will be impacted the most if nothing is done today.”
Echoing Chikombero's remarks, Kunsinda says that, "It is frustrating that we have so many brilliant minds with brilliant innovations to mitigate climate change among us but they are not nurtured with the seriousness that they deserve".
When tropical storm Ana hit, a majority of Malawians were left in the dark after the country Electricity Generation Company (Egenco) was forced to switch off some of its machines due to flooding. Several projects aimed at reducing the country’s reliance on hydropower and introducing solar energy. Due to a lack of adequate funding, it might take longer for such projects to be completed. While young people are coming up with clean innovative methods that could create job opportunities and put an end to destruction of forests for charcoal production, many of their ideas are not taken onboard by the government.
When questioned on why the youth are sidelined with many of their ideas not taken on board, without going into details, the Malawi Environmental Protection Authority (MEPA) said that projects aimed at promoting youth participation are in the pipeline. The authority also cited the mass distribution of climate change related materials to primary schools across the country. The material includes text books and posters that carry the message “Climate change is real: Act Now” as well as concrete adaptation and mitigation activities that learners can implement in their communities. Introduction of the material was aimed at raising learners' awareness on climate change and its effects in Malawi.
“In ten or 20 years from now, we will not be the same age, and so there is need for us - who are the future - to start taking better care of the environment now. New leaders come and go, but the environment keeps getting worse. that has to change,” says Chikombero.
Chikombero hopes to continue using his music and skills to involve more young people in ensuring that they understand that climate change is already a reality and a clear and present danger.