Opinion & Insights lake malawi

Published on December 12th, 2015 | by lawilink


drilling Lake Malawi sustainable

Is oil drilling in Lake Malawi a sustainable Development?

Environmental Activist Godfrey Mfiti

On 3rd December, 2015 Activist Mfiti Presented a Public Talk organized by the Wildlife Environmental Society of Malawi (WESM) at Four Seasons, Chameleon Bar in Lilongwe, Malawi.

The Public Talk entitled “Is Oil drilling in Lake Malawi a Sustainable Development?” attracted members of the WESM and other guests. Among those in attendance were members of Foreign Missions based in Lilongwe.

The Public talk saw a rich discussion on Environmental Concerns, Policy review, State of readiness by the country in Oil exploration and also the ability to enforce local regulations by government.

Below is a summary of the Public Talk:

Crude Oil: Also called Petroleum that is chemical substances from Hydrogen and Carbon.

 Hydrocarbons are formed by the decay of organic substances trapped within sedimentary rocks. High temperatures and pressure convert the trapped matter into hydrocarbons. Liquid hydrocarbon found in nature is also referred to as crude oil

Crude Oil Impact on Water

  • Hydrocarbons can cause both physical and chemical effects in water; even very small quantities of hydrocarbon can prevent oxygen transfer in the water column, thus affecting aquatic life-support systems.
  • The presence of mere traces of a highly toxic hydrocarbon, such as benzene, may render water unfit for human consumption
  • Dissolved or emulsified oil in the water column can contaminate plankton, algae, fish eggs and invertebrate larvae. This prevents multiplication of fish
  • Petroleum hydrocarbons can enter people’s bodies when they breathe air, bathe, eat fish, drink water or accidentally eat or touch soil or sediment that is contaminated with oil

(According to the 2011, United Nations Environmental Impact Assessment Report of Ogoniland, Nigeria)

Oil Drilling in Lake Malawi can alter the Countries Fresh water by:

  • Waste Water is often produced along with hydrocarbons. More often than not it is salty, the salt concentration often exceeding that of sea water.
  • Disposal of produced waste water, even after removal of hydrocarbons, onto either land or water can cause adverse environmental impacts due to its high salinity.

N/B: This is a point of concern on Lake Malawi oil and gas exploration. Does Malawi have the capacity to enforce regulations preventing disposal of waste treated water? It is a fear most Malawians and environmental experts share. This grip of fear arises from past experience.

Why is Lake Malawi Different from Other Lakes?

  • Scientific Studies show that Lake Malawi has a flushing ability of 750 years(Donda et al,2009).This means any spillages or pollution in the Lake will take this period of 750 years for the Lake to flush itself through natural processes!
  • Lake Malawi has natural scenic beauty that distinguishes it from the rest of the Lakes all over the world. The Lake has over 300 types of fish only found in Malawi in this lake due to its special evolutionary processes endemic to the Lake. Scholars confirm that Lake Malawi makes about 15% of the world’s population of rare species of fish and indeed of the world’s fresh water lakes (Donda et al, 2009).
  • Blocks earmarked for Oil drilling in Lake Malawi


Benefits of Lake Malawi that are not being Accounted

  • Source of drinking water for Blantyre and surrounding cities and Lakeshore districts of Malawi.
  • Source of tourism worldwide-though not fully utilized
  • Source of Livelihoods for over 2million people living along the Lakeshore
  • Fisheries supporting the whole country (16million people) as a form of protein (draft fisheries policy 2012-2017)
  • Water in Lake Malawi has huge potential for agriculture development (Planned green belt initiative)
  • Only fresh water Lake with Outstanding Universal Values in the region (UNESCO,2014 Reactive Mission Report)
  • lake malawi

Should Malawi trade-off its Lake Malawi for Oil exploration?????Why not do an effective economic valuation of the Lake Malawi!

Why is Malawi doing it wrong?

  1. Malawi has out dated Legal and Policy framework in Oil & Gas exploration. It is also breaching a number of local and international conventions.
  2. The Audit of the current existing laws shows that they are in conflict with each other
  3. The Process of awarding oil licenses was not transparent hence does not meet international standards
  4. The Country does not have safeguards in embarking oil exploration in the only fresh water Lake.
  5. The country is currently not prepared to drilling oil in a fresh water lake when it is failing to enforce local regulations even in the current mining industry.
  6. The citizens of Malawi are not fully involved and oil & gas exploration will only benefit greedy business since there is no value addition to the process
  7. Environmental concerns and public health have been undermined in the planning process of oil & gas exploration hence the country is not clear on health and occupational safety regulations as evidenced in the Uranium Mining and other mining sectors in Malawi.

International Standards

  1. Country own local legislations in place conforming with international conventions
  2. Standards set aside for interested companies to bid in the oil & gas exploration
  3. Citizens fully participate and are made aware of the transparent oil & gas exploration process, possible impact on their health and available safeguards are set.
  4. Competent companies are awarded in a transparent manner and the local legislation is enforced to ensure compliance.


Malawi way of doing things:

Malawi is doing the oil & gas exploration in a reverse process, not transparent and withholding information to citizens.

The country is affected by levels of corruption, governance gaps, lack of compliance by mining industry and the lack of access to information.


  • Take note that water is life and Malawi is already facing problems to provide adequate drinking water for its people
  • Take appropriate action for the implementation of UN Sustainable Development Goals particularly the provisions in Goal 6 : sustainable management of water and sanitation for all;
  • Promote valuation of Lake Malawi so as decisions which are made on its utilization is  evidence-based and economically fool proof;
  • Conduct transparent Environmental Impact Assessments for development projects and Strategic Environmental Assessments to guide the development strategies especially in a freshwater like Lake Malawi
  • Promote public private partnerships in conserving the outstanding universal values of Lake Malawi and the Lake Malawi National Park
  • Must realize the importance of water to all development sectors in terms of water provision for agriculture, energy, urban development, fisheries, etc.


Oil exploration in Lake Malawi is not Sustainable. Must be stopped. It will damage the only fresh water Lake for Malawi.


In times of Universal deceit, speaking the truth is a revolutionary act”- George Orwell



Environmental Activist Godfrey Mfiti

Godfrey Mfiti is an Environmental Activist without borders. He is also Executive Director of The Institute of Sustainable Development (ISD) in Malawi. A Consultant in Project Management, Evaluation, Grant Proposal development & Human rights Environmental Impact Assessments.

He writes in his personal capacity. Has written a book titled: “Lake Malawi; Virgin water and its People”

The book is being edited for publication it exposes the evils of oil exploration expected in Lake Malawi.

E-mail: isdmalawi20@gmail.com/godfreymfiti2006@yahoo.co.uk

Twitter : @godie_mfiti         Tel:  +265(0)991502690

THE HOST IN THE PRESS BY 9th December, 2015




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