Overpopulation, climate change devastate mountainous Malawi

By Anderson Fumulani

Overpopulation, climate change devastate mountainous Malawi

Malawi, a mountainous country, should boast thick forests covered with vegetation that blankets its land and protects the environment from flooding when it rains. However, overpopulation, environmental degradation and climate change continue to devastate this banana-shaped landlocked country that lies in central southeastern Africa.

Devastating floods

Although enjoying a varied terrain that includes plains, domed mountains, inselbergs (“island mountains”), and forests which should prevent unsustainable flooding, Malawi has faced perpetual disasters during each rainy season (October-April) for decades. Between 1946 and 2013, floods accounted for 48% of major disasters, and their frequency and severity have been increasing ever since.

In the first two weeks of February this year, heavy rains and flooding have already killed 62 people, three times the number of dead by the end of January, the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA) of the President’s office disclosed in a statement released this week. Over 20,000 households have been displaced and 185 people have sustained injuries.

Moreover, the latest heavy flooding has been largely blamed as the main cause of the ongoing cholera outbreak which has already claimed 1,300 lives by mid-February 2023.


The world’s third poorest country also makes it into Africa’s top 10 most populated countries. With a population of over 19 million people, density is 186 people per square kilometer which is three times higher compared to its bordering neighbors with Tanzania at 62, Zimbabwe at 44, Mozambique at 38, and Zambia at 23 persons per square kilometer.

During a presentation to the National Assembly in March 2022, a team of population experts commissioned by the United Nations Population Fund, the Africa Institute for Development Policy, and the United Stated Agency for International Development (USAID) said that the population should be integrated into all development and environmental planning as rapid population growth lowers per capita expenditure and leads to food insecurity and parents being unable to provide adequate education for their children and health care.

Economy badly hit

Malawi is an agricultural country with this sector accounting for over 30% of the country’s GDP. Some sources have observed that every year about 12% of maize harvest is lost in the south of the country because of floods. Moreover, experts assess that about 1% of the GDP is lost annually due to floods with droughts adding even more losses.

At the same time, overpopulation leads to increasing deforestation and hence, land erosion.

“Population growth places huge demands on natural systems with more land being converted to agriculture and more forests being harvested for the fuel wood supply. Climate change magnifies these impacts by putting greater strain on land and forests due to increased incidents of natural disasters, disease outbreak, crop failure and extreme weather events” the latest Malawi Population and Housing Census report published in 2020 stated.

Government’s measures

The Government of Malawi is meanwhile investing in climate-smart agricultural practices to rescue degraded land and restore a healthy environment across Malawi. Utilizing the World Bank’s US$128 million funded Climate Smart Enhanced Public Works Programme (CS-EPWP), the Government started working with 435,000 households in the country’s 28 district councils in 2020 with the program due to last until 2025.

“The overall objective of CS-EPWP is to create visible, durable, and quality assets within micro catchments that will help to improve household resilience to shocks, increase the impact on household level incomes and food security and reduce households’ exposure to the risks associated with climate change and other disasters” states a manual designed to guide the implementation of the program.