Written by ALLAN HENDRY NGUMUYA
As a Malawian citizen, allow me to share the little on this subject of oil drilling. Please note that I am writing this without any political agenda. Before we support or oppose anything, we need to understand the issue. I hope by the end of this article, I will have changed some minds on drilling. Malawians must stand up in unison and put a stop to oil drilling.
Lake Malawi, which lies in the Rift Valley, is the third largest lake in Africa and is home to almost 1, 000 fish species. Lake Malawi helps local people about 1.5million in districts like Karonga, which has the population of over 190,000; Nkhata- Bay which has the population of over 165,000; Nkhota-kota which has the population of over 225,000; Salima which has the population of over 245,000 and Mangochi with population of over 610,000.
Looking at these statistics, 95% of the people from each district depend on commercial activities from this beautiful Lake Malawi which also provides the most essential proteins to all 13,000,000 Malawians and around the world. It is believed that Lake Malawi more 2,000,000 years old.
Oil and gas drilling in Lake Malawi
Oil drilling has potentially negative effects, especially to the local ecosystem. There are so many ways that can easily cause this to happen, for example, a spill which can cause catastrophic damage if it is not contained quickly. People in these districts would feel the effects within a short period of time. This is the same as break bone of Malawi’s economy. We must think deep and have a vision for our country. We must ask: What impact is it going to have on Malawi? Are our decisions helpful in the next 10 to100 or even 1000 years to come? Are we allowing Malawians to have a say in such a critical issue before a few (government officials) make decisions for the rest of us.
If government officials make quick and hasty decisions, our lake will end up having no value at all and properties along this lake are going to be of no use. Think of all the resorts, hotels, beaches, commercial and socio activities that are taking place there right now? From Karonga to Mangochi such activities will not be there anymore. What about the people and wildlife on Likoma, Chizumulu and Birds islands? Oil leaks or spills can have extremely negative effects on natural environment. We must know offshore oil and gas drilling releases toxic chemicals, these chemicals pose a significant risk to the environment as well as developmental effects in humans. Scientists tell us that these toxic chemicals can accumulate and magnify in the food chain. What that means is that humans who would consume contaminated fish and birds would be exposed to toxic chemicals, a serious health risk. Think of the cancers Malawians don’t suffer from today because they eat clean, uncontaminated food.
Economically, oil drilling will have an effect on tourism. I doubt the money that’s to be realised from drilling will be worth more than the money that’s been brought into Malawi for the past many decades through this lake. The quality of water as we speak is very good and we must keep it that way. We can intelligently use this lake to develop and run irrigation systems on solar energy to produce food. We need to tap this resource and get it to areas where they don’t have any water. These types of projects would provide many job opportunities to Malawians. Our colleges produce engineers and agricultural experts and there's no reason why such projects should fail if we are determined.
As we try to find other ways to diversify the economy, we must think of people; people who depend on Lake Malawi for their livelihood. Lake Malawi is our gold, let's mine it responsibly by not allowing these companies from the East, West, South or North to exploit it.
Ask those who want to drill to go and drill in their own countries! They have their own water bodies but they can’t drill for the same reasons cited above. Their countries are still intact. It doesn't mean they don’t want to drill but enlightened and active citizens stop them from exploiting their environment and affecting people’s lives. Let’s say NO to drilling in Lake Malawi!
The author, Ngumuya, is Malawi's top gospel recording artist