Nkhata Bay and Likoma residents in northern Malawi have an additional national challenge, apart from the skyrocketing consumer prices and weak disposal incomes that every Malawian is facing today: They are contending with a prolonged gap in safe and cheap water transport.
The residents are blaming government for failing to provide a lasting solution to their transport woes.
The MV Ilala, which ferries people to and from Likoma Island, was grounded in June to undergo major repairs. So far, no immediate solution is in sight till possibly the end of the year.
This has made transport costs between the two points to skyrocket.
A recent visit to Nkhata Bay Jetty on a Tuesday found passengers being bundled into small boats together with their luggage. The passengers had to scramble for space on the few boats, with some travellers sitting on luggages.
Some were also seen stranded at the jetty, claiming they had spent many days trying to get to Likoma.
Meanwhile, the number of boats ferrying passengers between the two districts has also drastically gone down following marine police officersâ€™ increased patrols. The police are arresting unlicensed captains and impounding unseaworthy boats on Lake Malawi waters.
Joyce Kajola, one of the passengers stranded in Nkhata Bay, said she came to the mainland on a Saturday but two days later, she was still at the jetty. She said she was incurring extra costs on food and lodging.
Fares on private boats have shot up by almost 200 percent to K2 500 for individuals and 400 percent to K2 000 for luggage while on Ilala, people used to pay only K840 and K400 for the same, respectively.
Another stranded passenger, Oliver Mphungalume, a student who failed to report for school on a Saturday in Nkhotakota, said the Ilalaâ€™s absence has made life difficult for many students.
Nkhata Bay police spokesperson Martin Bwanali said people have taken advantage of the grounded Ilala to operate small boats illegally.
Deputy Minister of Transport and Public Works Sosten Gwengwe said government is talking to Tanzania to have the MV Songea operate on the lake.
He said the Ilala will only be back in service beforeÂ mid December.