How climate change is ravaging some of the world's poorest communities

At the end of a week that has seen world scientists issue a “code red for humanity” in the battle to curb disastrous climate change, a series of disturbing photographs illustrates the devastating impacts already hitting some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.

The images, taken by Malawi-based photographer Dennis Lupenga, reveal the human story of life around Lake Chilwa – the second largest water body in the country, which is surrounded by a densely populated area that is home to around 1.5 million people.

They show how increasingly extreme floods, droughts and heatwaves, driven by global warming, are affecting health and livelihoods and threatening the community’s very survival.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Malawi is the third-poorest country in the world and is ranked at number 23 in the list of the most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change – despite its comparatively minimal contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions.

Malawi is the third poorest country in the world and high up the list of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change - 1.5 million people living around Lake Chilwa are already suffering the consequences of extreme droughts and floods. Picture: Dennis Lupenga

Nationally, three in 10 citizens have no access to clean water near their home, and the changing climate is making it even harder to reach as droughts dry up sources and flooding contaminates them.

Peter Phiri, head of programmes for the charity WaterAid Malawi, said: “The situation in Lake Chilwa is a clear example of how climate change is worsening the already poor access to basic water, sanitation and hygiene services for those who are least to blame for its causes.

“Access to a reliable clean water supply, good sanitation and hygiene is the most important way of coping with the effects of climate change.

“We need to ensure now that a fair share of global finances targeted at climate investment goes to mitigate the growing threats to the lives and livelihoods of those most affected on the front line of climate change impacts.”

Aerial view of women and children doing the time-consuming task of water collection - filling buckets and waiting for their turn at a borehole on Chisi Island in Malawi. Picture: Dennis Lupenga

Read More

Read More
Scots helping Malawi rebuild after floods

Figures show only five per cent of total global climate funding is spent helping countries adapt to the environmental emergency, and much of that money is not invested in the communities most impacted by its effects.

Some of the most climate-vulnerable countries receive less than £1 per person each year for water.

Scotland has strong links with Malawi, which began with David Livingstone's journeys up the Zambezi and Shire Rivers to Lake Malawi in 1859 and continue today through the Scotland-Malawi Partnership and aid work in the country.

Fishermen Samson Maliko, Charles Mitule, Flechala Sochela and Dumba say climate change is having a major impact on their lives, causing Lake Chilwa to dry out completely in each of the past few years - sparking food shortages and high air humidity that makes it difficult to breath. Picture: Dennis Lupenga

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We’re more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven’t already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.

There is no dedicated water supply for the health clinic on Chisi Island, which treats around 55 people each day and delivers 10 babies every month - staff members must fetch water from a borehole shared with the whole community. Picture: Dennis Lupenga
Belita Fenek, 35, and her family live near Lake Chilwa and are among millions of Malawians struggling to scrape by due to the effects of climate change on the region. Picture: Dennis Lupenga
Canoes lie abandoned on the cracked, dried out bed of Lake Chilwa in Machinga, Malawi. Picture: Dennis Lupenga
Environmental scientist Professor Sosten Chiotha, who has led an important study of the region, is concerned about the increase in the rhythm of the lake drying out. Picture: Dennis Lupenga
Ntila marketplace, at the northern side of Lake Chilwa, pictured during this year's rainy season - when water levels should traditionally be high. Picture: Dennis Lupenga
Antony Nakutepa, 26, doctor in-charge, of the Chisi Island heath centre, said: “The issue of water here is critical. For instance, at the maternity centre, we really need water all the time. Our health centre needs to be cleaned three times a day but we can only manage to get it cleaned once a day. It is so unhygienic. The nearby borehole dries up after drawing a few buckets of water.” Picture: Dennis Lupenga
locals cross the virtually dry bed of Lake Chilwa to reach the market during the most recent rainy season. Picture: Dennis Lupenga

Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.