Once upon a time, Zomba used to be a green town, but not anymore as trees have been cut down by people trying to meet the growing city’s insatiable appetite for fuel wood and timber.
In turn, nature has hit back, the city has paid a high cost through effects of climate change such as flooding.
In recent times, the city has faced the full impact of floods that have in some instances seen houses in the old capital washed away, nearly submerged or having their roofs brown off.
The sad sights have reminded the senior citizens of the 1946 floods that burst the banks of Likangala and Mulunguzi rivers leading to loss of lives, including that of colonial government commissioner at the time J.H. Ingram whose body was recovered by prisoners downstream.
Zomba City mayor Benson Bullah regrets the deforestation path that the once green city has taken.
“We have a big deforestation problem,” he says.
But he is hopeful that Zomba has the potential of regaining its lost glory.
His faith in a greener Zomba is being strengthened by Building Resilience in Urban Areas in Southern Africa Project which is being run in the city by Oxfam Malawi and UN-Habitat with funding from Adaptation Fund.
The project seeks to rehabilitate the environment by replanting trees in the areas where sharp axes have felled trees.
The starting point of the project is establishment of tree nurseries from which the seedlings for greening Zomba will be sourced, according to Adaptation Fund funding manager Wilford Njala.
“We are working with communities to plant trees in their areas. At this stage we are just setting up the nurseries so that at a later stage we can plant the trees,” he says.
Njala says apart from planting trees, the project will also improve the bridges in the city to reduce the risk of drowning and other accidents that occur when there are no bridges.
“The bridges will help people to cross rivers safely even when it floods so that they don’t drown and we don’t lose lives. That way we will be able to save lives,” he says.
According to the World Health Organisation, drowning is the leading cause of preventable death that has claimed 2.5 million lives over the past decade worldwide.
The project, also being implemented in Seychelles, Mauritius and Mozambique, seeks to reduce the intensity of the floods caused by siltation in water catchment areas.
“The trees will control erosion so that people who are downstream are not washed away and do not suffer the effects of climate change,” says Njala.
Through the project, Bullah sees the city regaining the lost vegetation.
His hope is shared by Jane Bonongwe Chimanda of Chinamwali Ward whose committee received the tools.
The nursery tools, which include polythene tubes, gumboots, watering cans and overalls have strengthened the resolve of participating wards/communities.
Chimanda says nursery management was a big challenge without proper tools and the donation of the items will motivate them to do more.
And so, the journey towards reversing the trend of floods in Zomba which in 2019 affected 29 892 and displaced 6 500 people, has begun. n