The New York Times (pg. F1), April 3, 2007
PRONE TO DROUGHT, AND ALL BUT UNABLE TO PREDICT THE WEATHER
By Sharon Lafraniere
DATELINE: BLANTYRE, Malawi, March 29
Here are four views of the climate divide.
Twice a day, 25-year-old Harold Nkhoma checks a series of gauges at the government's weather station here in Malawi's second-biggest city.
He skips the barometer because its light doesn't work and he can't read the figures. He has waited six months for new batteries.
He ignores the evaporation pan designed to show how quickly water is absorbed into the soil. Peeled-off paint and missing wire mesh have left it useless. And he bypasses the glass sphere that measures the duration of sunshine by burning marks on paper strips. It has been out of paper for four years.
His supervisor, Werani Chilenga, is disgusted. Broken equipment, outmoded technology, slipshod data and a sparse scattering of weather stations are all that his national agency can manage on a $160,000 budget.
"We cannot even know the duration of sunshine in our country for four years, so how can we measure climate change?" said Mr. Chilenga, a meteorological engineer. "Oh, oh, it is pathetic!"
The lack of meteorological data is just one challenge as Malawi struggles to cope with global warming. Add to that a lack of irrigation; overdependence on a single crop, maize; shrinking fish stocks; vanishing forests; and land degradation.
Last March, Malawi, which has a population of 14 million people and is one of the world's poorest countries, identified $23 million worth of urgent measures it should take in the next three years. It delivered them to the United Nations program that helps poor nations deal with climate change.
A year later, the government is still negotiating with donors. "It is sad that up until now we have not gotten the monies that have been talked about," said Henry Chimunthu Banda, the minister of environmental affairs. That is not to say Malawi is standing still. The government is moving toward bigger grain reserves, changes in agricultural practices and construction of a new dam. Nine out of 10 Malawians are subsistence farmers.
Austin Kampen, 39, is an early adapter. A nonprofit group last year gave him hoses and a huge bucket -- a rudimentary but effective crop sprinkler system.
He plants a variety of maize more likely to survive shorter growing seasons and backs it up with cotton, vegetables, potatoes and cassava.
He still lost his entire harvest in January when the river overflowed after a week of nonstop rain, submerging his seven-acre field and leaving 75 of his neighbors homeless. Still, he said, he will manage to plant anew this season.
Another farmer, Jessie Kaunde, also aims for resilience. But her bravest effort failed.
Armed with a $68 loan, she dug two fish ponds in 1999 behind her house north of Blantyre. Since drought struck three years ago, they are nothing but giant grassy pits.
"I am really disappointed," she said.
One reason is that other farmers have planted by the river that fed her ponds, causing the riverbanks to cave in and disrupt the water flow. Such planting is illegal but enforcement is weak, said Everhart Nangoma, an environmental specialist formerly with CURE, a nonprofit group focusing partly on climate change.
"Malawi is getting ready, but we are not there," Mr. Nangoma said. "We are not ready at all."