Just four months ago, the fishing harbour at Kachulu on the western shores of Lake Chilwa in Malawi was bustling with fishermen and traders haggling over the catch of the day.
Today hundreds of fishing boats sit marooned on cracked, dry mud as vultures fly above the shores of the once productive fishing zone 30 kilometres east of the southern African country’s old capital Zomba.
Julius Nkhata, a local villager, says the increasingly dramatic seasonal dry-out of the lake — blamed by experts on man-made climate change — has displaced local people and increased joblessness.
“Some of them have relocated to Lake Malawi while others have taken up temporary labour jobs in the rice schemes around here,” he told AFP.
Chilwa, the country’s second largest lake after Malawi, is shallow and saline and particularly prone to seasonal variations in water level and was last so dry during a drought in 1991.
It is home to two inhabited islands and also sustains nearly 200 waterbird species.
Environmental scientist professor Sosten Chiotha, who has studied the lake for 27 years, estimates it is now 60% dry.
“Records show the lake has dried completely several times in the last 100 years ... according to published literature, it was a cycle of 20 to 25 years,” he said.
But Chiotha warns that rhythm has changed.
“From the 1990s, the frequency of the drying has increased and this is connected to the impacts of extreme weather events typical of climate change,” he said.
One-and-a-half million people live in the areas on the Lake Chilwa basin, which is one of the most densely populated areas in southern Africa.