Anxiety is growing among communities, fishermen and business people in Kachulu area around Lake Chilwa at the possibility of the lake drying up within the next two years.
The World Fish Centre and the Lake Chilwa Basin Climate Change Adaptation Programme made the announcement two weeks ago following studies they had conducted.
Malawi News visited the area last week Friday and people spoken to testified that the lake had receded far too much this year and they feared it could dry up next year if rains fail in the next season.
Binesi Gomala, a fisherman from Nampeya in Machinga, who has been fishing in the lake since 1999 said the lake level had gone down considerably as compared to the same time last year.
He claimed the falling water level has resulted in reduction of fish catches and friction among the fishermen.
"Because the lake has receded considerably this year, some areas that used to have fish don't have and people are now cramming in one spot to fish. There is now growing conflict as there are too many of us using different fishing methods at one spot," said Gomala.
Two other people who were born and have grown up in the area and have been plying different trades at the site taking advantage of the bustling fishing business also testified the water levels had gone down and they feared for their livelihood should the rains fail again this year.
"The lake also dried in 1995 and walked on its dry bed across to the other side. If the lake dries up, things will be unpleasant for us because this lake is our life. We have grown up in it and we get everything out of it," said one of them, Benson Msonkho.
Chairperson of the community, Brown Matekenya, attributed the development to the failure of rains in the past two seasons in the area.
"It's unlikely that the lake will dry up this year but if rains don't come this season, then we can expect the worst next year and if that happens, it will be disaster here because this lake is our life. So I pray rains come next season," Matekenya said.
But he dismissed claims of conflict for fish saying as the lake is narrowing, enough fish stocks are found in particular spots for the traders.
On our visit, we found thriving small scale businesses of grocery shops, food stalls and transportation of people to and from the lake and across the lake to Chisi Island.
A draft Lake Chilwa Water Monitoring report by the World Fish Centre says the Lake Chilwa wetland is likely to partially or completely dry up if it continues to receive below normal rainfall in the next season as has been predicted by weather experts.
According to the report, the lake supports the livelihood of over 1 million in the basin covering the districts of Phalombe, Machinga and Zomba though agricultural and natural goods valued at $21 million per year.
It also contributes 20 percent of fish catches in the country.
The report says the current water levels have also brough sanitation problems.
"Crowding of fishing villages which still have adequate water levels for fishing has also resulted in poor sanitation and has reduced sources of potable water for local communities," it says.
The lake has dried up 8 times in the past 100 years, according to the report, with the recent case being in 1995/96 season.
The World Fish Centre recommends increased sensitization of the surrounding communities about the possibility of the lake drying up.
It also calls for the drawing up of plans to mitigate against short term effects on livelihoods of people and long term plans for alternative livelihood opportunities in the basin.