BLANTYRE-(MaraviPost)—For a quite number of years, the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM) has been attributing persistent blackouts in the country to reduction in water levels in Lake Malawi.
According to ESCOM, over 95% of Malawi’s electricity is generated from hydro with Shire River as the main source of the hydro-electricity. Shire River’s main source is Lake Malawi.
However, this year the country’s electricity supplier has no excuse as water level in Lake Malawi has hit the highest level due to above normal rainfall within the Lake’s catchment area and water control mechanisms at the Kamuzu Barrage in Liwonde.
Water level in Lake Malawi has risen to about 1 meter higher than was the case same time last year – the highest point in nearly a decade. This is according to data collected from the country’s three main water level monitoring stations at Chilumba in Karonga, Nkhata – Bay and Monkey Bay in Mangochi district.
“On 20th April, the level was at 474.82 metres. That is 0.65 metres higher than was the case same time last year,” confirmed Simeon Shumba, Publicist in the Ministry of Irrigation and Water Development in an interview with Mana.
He argued the development which has partly submerged some beaches along the country’s lakeshore districts is a result of above normal rainfall within the lake’s catchment area and water control mechanisms from the lake’s sole outlet Shire River at the newly constructed Kamuzu Barrage in Liwonde.
The barrage, which was officially opened by President Peter Mutharika, was constructed to regulate water flow that only the amount that is required is released for downstream users, thereby storing some for use in time of need. This way, it also helps regulate water levels in the lake.
“About 98% of our hydroelectricity is generated from the Shire River. The success of such including seamless water supply by the Blantyre Water Board and irrigation for Illovo and Kasinthula schemes is dependent on constant and relatively high water flow from the lake into the Shire River,” said Shumba.
Shumba added the rise is “still 0.52 metres below normal level for the past 50 years, pointing out that nearly 52 percent of water in the lake comes from Tanzania. The lake last reached its lowest record at 472.94 metres in 1997, a level that was last registered in 1931. At 477. 24 metres, Lake Malawi’s record level rise was noted in 1980 following exceptionally high annual rainfalls between 1977 and 1979 within the lake’s catchment area.
Records at the Ministry of Irrigation indicate Lake Malawi reached its lowest level of about 470 metres in 1915, a development which stopped the lake’s outflow into the lake’s sole outlet Shire for 22 years.
The 580 kilometre long fresh water body is the south most lake of the Great African Rift valley, with the greatest width of up to 80 kilometres. The fifth largest in the world by volume, the lake is a vast resource in food and employment. It is home to a global record of an estimated 1000 fish species.