Monday, February 1, 2016

Liwonde--Dependence Upon Weather--Part II--Geoge's Post


1.    Dependence upon Weather Conditions

In Malawi, where a majority of the population lives in small villages and market towns scattered throughout the countryside and is largely dependent upon subsistence farming for its livelihood, the state of the weather during the growing season is critical in determining both the country’s economic strength as well as the health of most of the population.    When the weather is conducive to farming, the rural population can keep starvation at bay, reducing the welfare demands to support the poor and underprivileged placed upon an financially challenged, corrupt, and beleaguered government   But when the weather is poor, subsistence farmers and their families suffer, sometimes terribly, and the national government faces mounting pressure to take steps to alleviate the widespread suffering and deprivation or risk voter outrage and revolt at the next national elections.  
While Malawi has a winter and summer season, the temperature span, at least around Blantyre, is relatively narrow—with average high temperatures in the mid-80s and average lows in the mid to higher 60s.   Blantyre is encircled by a ring of modest-sized peaks and mountains, and sits on a high plateau with altitudes ranging between 4,000 and 5,000 feet above sea level, before the table top, upon which Blantyre sits, drops off abruptly to the south on the way to Chikwawa, an hour drive south of the city.   Winter requires the occasional sweater or light jacket in the evening, but mid-day temperatures, especially on sunny days, hover in the mid to low 70s.[1]    Malawi is located 12 degrees south of the equator, so the summer temperatures in Blantyre, though higher, are not brutal; yet to the south in the Chikwawa and Nsanje Districts (little more than an hour or two away by car), summer temperatures soar and the heat is often oppressive and enervating, getting shade being essential.   Though I brought with me to Malawi both long- and short-shelved shirts, I can think of only one or two occasions when I haven’t worn a short-shelved white shirt—wearing a suit coat is never comfortable.   Almost every day is sunny and pleasant, even during the rainy season.
But, from a weather perspective, what really counts is the difference between the dry and wet seasons in Malawi, the latter generally extending each year from December through March.     The critical factors during the rainy season are how much it rains and when the rain comes.   Intermittent soaking rains, conveniently spaced, are thought of as God-sent blessings, not so torrential downpours, washing away crops and causing widespread flooding, nor extended dry spells when crops need nourishing and lifesaving water.    To someone from Seattle, it is hard to think of Malawi’s “rainy” season as in fact “rainy” —almost every day is sunny or at least starts “sunny” in the early morning hours, clouds frequently gathering in the afternoon, whether or not it rains.    And there are often many consecutive days without rainfall at all.   But when the rains come, they can be heavy (indeed torrential), but rarely do they last more than an hour or so, before passing along.    Occasionally, Blantyre is blasted with a day-long storm, misty and rainy throughout, but it is the exception and nothing like the constant rains, day after day, so characteristic of the western side of the Cascades in Washington and Oregon.   But Malawians must depend upon the rain they get during the “rainy” season, because the dry season brings very little rain, nothing more than the occasional sprinkle; so the rainy season is the time to plant, nurture and harvest crops and to replenish the critical water levels in the lakes, dams and reservoirs


[1] Malawians, so habituated to warm weather, find their winters to be cold, bundling up in sweaters, coats, knit caps, gloves and scarves whenever the temperature dips, clothing we would don only if temperatures were much colder.