This is the first trip I have taken to Malawi that I can admit I didn't fully enjoy. I am one of Malawi's biggest supporters but I have to be honest and admit that I am losing things to support. Malawi used to be beautiful but our countryside is being severely ravaged by its own people.
The two key environmental problems I observed:
1. Heavy deforestation and
2. Frequent small-scale forest and countryside fires
I drove from Blantyre to Ku Chawe Inn in Zomba then to Kasungu and back down along the lakeshore road covering over 1,200 kilometres. I completely lost track of the forest fires I saw during the day and at night. Even within Blantyre you constantly smell smoke from burning leaves and cars that should no longer be on the road.
This pollutes the air and the scenery.
Club Makokola is the only place I found that confirmed they do not burn their leaves. They sweep them all into flower beds and use them as compost. It actually looked strikingly pretty. I wish everyone would follow suit.
Malawi doesn't have much in the way of natural resources. What we do have, or used to have, is gorgeous countryside and that is now mostly gone. It's more than sad.
I often drive into the British countryside and despite the terrible weather the British countryside is lush, inviting and unpolluted. I have never seen a fire being burnt and developments are controlled to minimise environmental pollution.
Malawians in Malawi, why are you sitting by the wayside and allowing your country to be destroyed? Is barren countryside what you aspire to leave your children?
The poor may claim to need firewood but why aren't they replacing the trees they fell? The soil is very fertile; there are seeds everywhere. Plant trees and use fallen leaves as compost. When you've cut down all your trees what will you do then? Die from hunger and starvation, that is what.
This does not have to be a Government-level problem. Everyone needs to take some responsibility. Replace trees that have been felled! Amongst many problems, missing trees means less carbon dioxide is removed from the environment and any strong wind becomes a sand storm. If our country can't match the beautiful scenery of other African countries we can expect even fewer tourists and even less forex than is currently available. I can't believe people don't see the wider repercussions of deforestation and burning fires. Honestly, do you need a degree to see these things?
It's time for action. Wake up. Stop sleeping, beer-drinking or whatever it is you do in your spare time, start planting trees and stop burning fires!
As you watch this destruction keep in mind that the Sahara Desert was once a forest and we are very much moving in that direction. You've been warned!
By Heather Katsonga-Woodward
I'm always thinking, debating, considering and revising my views - some of those deliberations will be shared right here.