Maru Yakobe grew up depending on the lake from birth.
Fishing used to earn her as much as 15,000 kwacha ($20) a day — enough to feed and clothe her five children, and send them to school.
“We used to thrive because of the lake, but now that there is no business, the devastation has not spared anyone in the village,” she said.
Maru now depends on a rice paddy, once a supplemental income source, for her family’s survival.
“It does not compare to fishing,” she said.
Nixon Masi, a government fishery official at Chilwa, said a women’s fish-drying cooperative that depends on the lake had been devastated.
“There is no fish. This has resulted in a big problem as the women from the cooperative have no source of income,” he said.
Of the initial 38 members, 21 have left to rebuild their lives elsewhere.
“Some of these women have reverted back to poverty which is disappointing because we had been making a lot of progress,” added Masi.
‘Back to square one’
Rose Kamata, a cooperative member, said the scheme had transformed her life.
“Last year, I received a dividend amounting to 400,000 kwacha… But because we are not making any money, I withdrew everything and I am back to square one,” said the widowed mother-of-eight.
The lake once provided about 30 percent of the country’s fish, worsening its food hunger problems.
The lake’s Chisi Island, home to 3,500 people, has also been hit.
“Even those that tried farming did not yield anything because of the dire weather conditions,” said local chief Evans Chimenya.
“People on the island are desperate and life is really hard.”
Islanders have resorted to felling trees to make charcoal for sale on the mainland.
“You cannot stop people from trying to feed themselves,” he said.
“If the rains do not come soon, you will start hearing news that people from Chisi Island are dying of hunger.”
Boat taxi operator Stephen Chimenya said he used to “make no less than 5,000 kwacha a day”.
“But this unexpected calamity has made most of us helpless,” he said, adding he was making charcoal to earn some money.
“What can we do? We have to feed our families.”