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A Lecture on Water, by Professor Nature

By Blessings Jeranji
September 29, 2017

Water has obvious beneficial effects for the environment and communities. However, if not managed well it can have destructive powers. While on a field visit to the Mitundu Extension Planning Area (EPA) (on a Nissan Hardbody car), we had to make a U-turn as rains that day had made the road inaccessible. In the car was a team from the Flood Based Farming Livelihoods Network (FBLN), on a day-long visit to sites where rainwater harvesting was being practiced as part of Flood Based Farming Systems (FBFS).

During the visits, we saw the benefits of rainwater harvesting from various rainwater harvesting structures. We saw roads in good condition after the rainwater from the roads was successfully drained using a technique called road runoff/ road water harvesting. Water drained from the roads was diverted to nearby fields and was incorporated with in-situ rainwater harvesting techniques. The roads which had problems during the rainy season in the past were now in good condition. The locals were in praise of the Malawi Flood Based Chapter initiatives. The fields’ moisture conditions (which could be noticed using the feel and mould method) were more evidence of this success.

“The water has been destroying field ridges for years, carrying the soil away, creating gullies. This road became unpassable during rainy season due to the water that used to accumulate on this road” Said Group Village Headman Kamwendo. Farmers are now in praise of the initiative by the FBLN as this was news of the past. The water was not only used to keep up the moisture conditions of the fields but also for recharging the groundwater. This is a beautiful scene in one of the areas in Mitundu under Group village headman Kamwendo.

Figure 1: Diversion canal from the Road in MITUNDU, Group Village kamwendo

Figure 2: Blessings Jeranji, a young professional admiring the in-situ rainwater harvesting techniques (pits collecting water from the roads).

As we were returning, escorted by the rain, we chose to use a road from Mlare hospital which connects with the Mitundu Road. This did not go as planned; just after the dam on this road, the water from the rains had created a flood across the road. This flood further created gullies on the road which forced us to turn and once again (like in the morning) use another road. This experience was contrary to what we had just seen earlier. This is evidence of how water be destructive if not managed.  The water that could have been harvested for beneficial use was now an enemy which we failed to fight. While using roads as water harvesting structure is a good cause, the challenge here was channeling the harvested water and storing it in a proper structure. Since no such structure was in place, the floods had no choice but to freely damage everything on their way.

Another site to be visited was close to the Bunda college farm. A pond storing 1.2 million liters of water was constructed for the college, collecting road runoff. We had to see this beautiful structure! We were welcomed by the slippery roads which forced our car to drift on to the nearby fields. Hours were spent trying to move the vehicle from the field. Finally, we arrived at the structure and we saw that it was properly performing its intended purpose. However, it was full to the brim and water could be seen leaking from its spillway. The pond was not big enough to store the amount of water from road runoff in that area.

We can say our field visit was more informative than expected; we only planned to see the beneficial use of water harvesting, but nature had other plans for us. It taught us a good lesson; it showed us what water can do if not managed. The efforts by FBLN in water management should and need to be promoted. One such way is by promoting rainwater harvesting which will, in turn, improve people’s livelihoods through agriculture and other beneficial practices.

Many roads in Malawi become inaccessible for some hours during the rainy season. This is due to either flooding or roads becoming muddy. Some of the roads develop gullies which makes traveling a big hustle. This is what we experienced during a field visit to Mitundu. Six months after this incident a trip to the same site presented us with a dusty road. The evidence of our incident still remains there, tire marks from the drift we had. The only difference now is that it is dry. The road is now in good condition; good enough that we used a salon vehicle and had no problems. However, the fact that it is dry shows there is a problem of water shortage. Visiting this area during the dry season proved that road water harvesting can be very beneficial; by storing it during the wet season, it can improve water availability in the dry season.

The FBLN Malawi Chapter in collaboration with the Rainwater Harvesting Association of Malawi calls on all Malawians to promote FBLS in its many forms. Promoting road water harvesting can help in keeping our roads in good condition, having sufficient water for irrigation, recharging groundwater, reducing soil erosion and cases of floods and damages brought by floods and in having water for domestic use and forestry reclamation.

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