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East Africa News & Stories

How climate change is draining Lake Malawi and local fishing economy

Hundreds of local traders gather each day at Senga only to find that fish populations are falling in Lake Malawi

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How climate change is draining Lake Malawi and local fishing economy
Malawian fishermen wash themselves with the water from the lake on the shore of the Lake Malawi at the Senga village in Senga, Malawi. (Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP)

On the shores of Lake Malawi, a crowd eagerly awaits the arrival of a white and yellow cedar wood boat carrying its haul.

The crew of six deliver a single net of chambo, sardine and tiny usipa fish from the boat, just one of 72 vessels that land their catch every day on the beach at Senga Bay.

But overfishing and climate change have taken their toll.

Hundreds of local traders gather each morning and afternoon at Senga only to find that fish populations are falling in Lake Malawi, Africa’s third-largest body of freshwater.

READ: Sierra Leone tackles overfishing but gets small fry

“We were hoping to catch a half-boat full or maybe a quarter-boat… but I’m afraid the fish are dwindling in numbers,” port manager Alfred Banda told reporters staring wearily at the small catch as it was dragged onto the sand.

“Before, we used to catch a full boat but now we are struggling,” he said, adding that a full boat would earn a team of between six and 12 fishermen about $300.

Bordering three countries — Malawi, Tanzania, and Mozambique — Lake Malawi stretches across more than 29,000 square kilometres (11,200 square miles) with over 1,000 species of fish.

The 14,000 people living at Senga Bay depend on the lake for food and for their livelihood.

“Seven years ago there was lots more fish than today. In 2019, it is different. There’s no fish in the water,” trader Katrina Male, a 40-year-old mother of six, told reporters as she stalked the nets of newly brought in fish seeking the best deal.

“The fish nowadays are more expensive, because they are becoming scarce,” Male said. “Some children have stopped going to school because their parents can’t find the money.”

‘No alternative to fishing’ –

For both locals and climate experts, declining fish numbers reflect a combination of environmental change and overfishing that augurs ill for the future.

The World Bank ranks Malawi among the top 10 at-risk countries in Africa to climate change, with cyclones and floods among the major threats.

How climate change is draining Lake Malawi and local fishing economy
Malawian fishermen fix their fishing nets as fishing boats are seen on the shore of the Lake Malawi at the Senga village in Senga, Malawi. (Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP)

Senga community leader, John White Said says increasing gale-force winds and torrential rains have made it harder for fishermen on the lake.

READ: Sierra Leone bans industrial fishing for a month

“Our men can’t catch fish because of wind which is much stronger than before,” he said, adding that the rains are increasingly unpredictable on the lake.

“The rain before would not destroy houses and nature but now it comes with full power, destroying everything and that affects the water as well.”

According to USAID, the number of rainfalls incidents in the country is likely to decrease — but each rainfall will be more intense, leading to droughts and floods.

The threat was highlighted in March when Malawi was hit by torrential rains from Cyclone Idai, killing 59 people. The storm also cut a swathe through Mozambique and Zimbabwe, leaving nearly 1,000 dead.

On top of the environmental impact, the number of fishermen in Senga had doubled in the last 10 years due to the lack of other jobs, Said said. 

“There is no alternative to fishing.”

One of the few to benefit is 38-year-old boat owner Salim Jackson, who rents out his two vessels.

“I got into fishing 13 years ago because I had no other option, I never went to school. But it has brought me good money,” he said.

‘Unsustainable fishing practices’ –

By sunset, the balls of fishing net lay stretched out on the beach and both buyers and fishermen negotiate prices.

Traders take their purchases in buckets to makeshift reed tables to be dried, smoked, fried or boiled in preparation for the market.

“Declining fish catches are mainly due to unsustainable fishing practices,” said Sosten Chiotha, a Malawian environmental science professor who works for the Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) action group.

“Overfishing is a challenge in Lake Malawi (but) there are efforts on co-management and closed seasons to ensure that the fishery recovers.”

How climate change is draining Lake Malawi and local fishing economy
Malawian fishermen work through their catch on their return ashore on the banks of the Lake Malawi at the Senga village in Senga, Malawi. (Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP)

Chiotha added that climate change was hitting Malawi with “increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events in the major ecosystems including lakes.”

READ: Tunisia fishermen are the lifesavers of the Mediterranean

That leaves Malawi’s agriculture-based economy sharply vulnerable to climatic events and entrenched poverty heightens pressure on the environment.

Wearing a black silk thawb robe and white kufi cap, Said stands tall on Senga beach, surveying the scene around him.

“I’m worried,” he said. “In Malawi, most people depend on fishing financially and as a cheap food source.

“The men have to cast their nets further and further away from the beach.”

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French police arrest 282 in riotous celebrations after Algeria football win

Some of the arrests were also linked to unrest surrounding events marking France’s national day celebrations on Sunday

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French police arrest 282 in riotous celebrations after Algeria football win
Algeria supporters celebrate after Algeria won the 2019 AFCON semi-final football match against Nigeria, on the Champs-Elysee avenue in Paris. (Photo by Zakaria ABDELKAFI / AFP)

A total of 282 people were arrested in France after unrest following the Algerian football team’s qualification for the final of the Africa Cup of Nations, the interior ministry said Monday.

Riotous celebrations erupted around the country after Algeria beat Nigeria 2-1 in the semi-final. The arrests were made nationwide on Sunday evening, the ministry said.

Some of the arrests were also linked to unrest surrounding events marking France’s national day celebrations on Sunday.

Unruly scenes erupted in Paris, Marseille, and Lyon. Fifty people were arrested in the French capital and there were incidents between football fans and police on the Champs-Elysees avenue.  

Dozens of cars were torched overnight in the eastern city of Lyon.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner on Monday congratulated police and firemen for their “speedy reaction and professionalism which contained the violence and to the perpetrators” being apprehended.

Of those arrested, 249 people were in custody.

Last Thursday, when Algeria defeated Ivory Coast to reach the semi-finals, fans went on the rampage in central Paris, looting shops.

On the same day in the southern city of Montpellier, an Algerian football supporter celebrating his team’s win lost control of his car at high speed and ran into a family, killing a woman and seriously injuring her baby.

Paris and Marseille are home to large minority communities of Algerian origin. Football celebrations, with supporters brandishing large national flags, have, on occasion, been a source of tensions.

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Feature Stories & News

South Africa’s “nyaope” heroin and the dangers of addiction

Heroin has been wreaking havoc in South Africa’s cities and rural areas since the early 2000s

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South Africa's "nyaope" heroin and the dangers of addiction
An addict of the drug cocktail known locally as Nyaope (Nyope) sits after taking a dose of the drug in an abandoned building in Simuneye township on the outskirts of Johannesburg. (Photo by MUJAHID SAFODIEN / AFP)

After helping an elderly woman load her bags into a mini-bus taxi at a busy intersection in Soweto, a scrawny and strung-out young man is rewarded with a few coins for his efforts.

High on “nyaope”, a street drug whose main ingredient is heroin, he is determined to make R30 within the next two hours before withdrawal symptoms start to creep in.

“It has been 11 years straight up, just smoking non-stop,” he told reporters, as he drew on a cigarette (tobacco) with his trembling hands.

“The thing that made me start smoking nyaope was stress, I had too much stress in my life. So I ended up relying on nyaope to calm me down,” said the frail and distant-eyed 28-year-old.

Heroin has been wreaking havoc in South Africa’s cities and rural areas since the early 2000s, according to a recent report by ENACT, an EU-funded project against cross-border organised crime.

Highly addictive, the nyaope cocktail is made of heroin cut with methamphetamine, codeine, and other substances reputedly ranging from anti-retroviral drugs to even powder from flat-screen televisions.

Smoked in a rolled joint laced with marijuana, or else liquidised and injected, it often leaves users with zombie-like sleepiness.

“That is why you find guys at street corners always sleeping. From the moment when you get the fix, you forget all the problems,” said the nyaope user in Soweto, a township on the outskirts of Johannesburg.  

The drug is known as “unga” in the Western Cape, “spices” or “whoonga” in Kwa-Zulu Natal province, and “nyaope” in Gauteng, the province that is home to both Johannesburg and Pretoria.

‘Underpinning criminal economy’ –

The ENACT report — “Hiding in Plain Sight: Heroin’s Stealthy Takeover of South Africa” — estimates there are more than 100,000 regular heroin users in South Africa and a trafficking market generating about R3.6 billion in annual revenue.

South Africa's "nyaope" heroin and the dangers of addiction
An addict of the drug cocktail known locally as Nyaope (Nyope) prepares to inject himself with the drug in an abandoned building in Simuneye township on the outskirts of Johannesburg. (Photo by MUJAHID SAFODIEN / AFP)

“Heroin is a key commodity underpinning the criminal economy in South Africa and has facilitated the expansion of the criminal economy,” report author Simone Haysom said.

“The drug trade has had the most destructive effect in poor communities,” she added.

Heroin moves from Afghanistan, which is the world’s top grower of the poppy from which heroin is produced, across the Indian Ocean to east Africa, down through southern Africa and then inland for distribution. 

“For 50 metres (yards) around us here, you can buy any drug. It’s a known fact,” Robert Michel, the frustrated director at the non-profit Outreach Foundation, told reporters at their offices in a churchyard in Johannesburg’s Hillbrow district.

Shaun Shelly, founder of the SA Drug Policy Week awareness programme, agreed, saying “as a total stranger you could probably get heroin there in 15 minutes on the street.”

In Hillbrow, one of the most notorious crime-ridden neighbourhoods in downtown Johannesburg, heroin peddling is mostly done by gangs, organised crime syndicates, and corrupt police.

“The worst part of it is that the police is not really doing anything. In many cases, what we hear is that the police and the drug dealers are working hand in hand,” Michel said.

Child addicts –

The scourge has reached many children around age 15, and even some as young as nine, according to Hillbrow social worker Sizwe Bottoman. 

“Others have stopped at school as it affects their brain so badly to an extent that they don’t concentrate,” she said.

South Africa's "nyaope" heroin and the dangers of addiction
(Photo by MUJAHID SAFODIEN / AFP)

Last month, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa vowed that a “national drug master plan” would reduce demand, cut off supply and “ultimately free our young people from the harm that they cause.”

He said he was alarmed that “the average age of a drug user is getting younger and younger.”

“Drugs such as nyaope… are fuelling violence, crime, suicide, and risky sexual behaviour,” the president said.

South Africa’s drug problem is also exacerbated by poor social services and its youth unemployment rate of over 50 per cent.

Having previously beaten addiction to crystal methamphetamine and the drug Mandrax, Cape Townian Ashley Abrahams, 38, said he regrets the day he started using heroin 10 years ago.

“It’s not easy to stay clean. You have to be busy, you have to get work,” the homeless man told reporters as he whipped out the teaspoon and lighter he uses to get high.

“Somebody who is on drugs, goes into rehab, comes back onto the streets, and has no prospect of finding a job — and within days gets back into using drugs,” the Outreach Foundation’s Michel said.

“It’s a terrible cycle to break out of.”

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