It was a sunny, quiet Friday of a ninth February,2024 in Nkhotakota, T/A Kalimanjira at Chizongwe 2 ground some nine kilometers away from Chia bridge as we are coming from Mwansambo turn off, where WESM through its Chia Water-bird Community Management project with funding from Darwin Initiative and UK Aid through Birdlife International successfully commemorated the World Wetlands Day 2024 in style. World Wetlands Day is commemorated globally on the second February yearly but due to some other unforeseen circumstances, WESM commemorated the day on the 9th of February.

WESM worked hand in hand with Nkhotakota District Council and other stakeholders to make the event fruitful and memorable as it not only attracted district level representatives such as the District Commissioner, but also the National top-level officials such as the Deputy Director of National Parks and Wildlife and officials from Environmental Affairs Department among others.

This years’ theme was on “Wetlands and Human wellbeing”. As an environmental conservation champion, WESM took part in the event not only for visibility purposes but also to let people around Chia Lagoon understand the link between wetlands and their wellbeing while also make them realize the various importance that comes along with wetlands in peoples’ lives and the larger biodiversity.

The event started at exactly 10:00 am with over 1,000 people witnessing and enjoying the event with various traditional dances, dramas and even poems from Chia and Chongole Primary Schools. With over 500 women in attendance, 50 wildlife club students, 4 T/As, 4 chiefs, 18 bird hunters, 7 extension workers, 3 VNRMCs chair, 20 DESK members, council chair, 5 Directors, the District Commissioner, WESM chair and the Director of National Parks and Wildlife as the guest of honor.

Since it was the tree planting season as per the Malawi government need, WESM sought to make the event more significant by having a tree planting exercise where the guest of honor, the DC, the T/A and five directors honored the day by planting trees as well as the giant bamboo provided by WESM Dwangwa Office.

Also, to make the event more relevant, WESM arranged a panel discussion about wetlands among the key players ranging from local, district and the national level at large. It was a fruitful discussion involving T/A Kalimanjira, council chair, Environmental Affairs Department, WESM programs Manager and the Director of national Parks and Wildlife. It was a question-and-answer platform where among others, the Director of National Parks and Wildlife was asked whether it is really crucial to protect wetlands in Malawi including Chia Lagoon while the Council chair was tasked to clarify on what set of interventions are put in place by the Council to ensure that wetlands are protected in Nkhotakota.

Whereas on the local level, T/A Kalimanjira was asked about what sort of problems/issues are coming out to people as a result of destruction of environment in Chia and what should be done to solve the vice. In his words, he stressed the need to work hand in hand with government, his chiefs and seniors around Chia to stop various man-made activities that endangers the Chia ecosystem. He further said, “we need to make some boundaries between the locals’ farming activities and Chia Lagoon”.

The council chair emphasized that the Chia project’s aim to preserve water birds and boost avitouris aligns closely with Khotakota district’s aspiration to become a tourism hub. He therefore emphasized to the community members on the importance of wetlands specifically Chia Lagoon as it provides the communities with fish for nutrition and livelihoods as well as it’s  environmetal values as an important habitat for birds and other biodiversity. He also praised WESM and its partners for fostering robust collaboration in the Chia project, through meaningful involvement of various stakeholders such as the Nkhotakota district council, local communities, and other nongovernmental organizations in the district. Wrapping up his address, he assured ongoing support from the Nkhotakota district council towards WESM and its project implementing partners.

The guest of Honour Mr Davis Kalima, Deputy Director for the Department of National Parks and Wildlife. Started his speech by explaining the significance of wetlands in terms of carbon sequestration,
flood control and water purification. He made a call for action to community members and traditional leaders to proactively protect and conserve Chia Lagoon as an important wetland by refraining from destructive activities. He further condemned people who cultivate rice too closely along the Lagoon’s buffer zone, use of harmful chemicals during fishing and cutting down trees around the lagoon.

In his closing remarks, Mr Kalima commended WESM for being a great partner and for complementing government’s efforts in aspiring for an environmentally sustainable Malawi as stipulated in the 2063 Agenda with Chia project being a good example.
He finished his speech with this Native American quote; “When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money”.