Oil and Water Don’t Mix in Lake Malawi Border Dispute

Courtesy of Circle of Blue, a brief commentary on the Lake Malawi border dispute where, in the search for oil & natural gas, Africa’s third largest lake has become a political battlefield:

Lake Malawi satellite

Lake Malawi, also known as Lake Nyasa, is one of the African Great Lakes that lies in the Eastern Rift Valley. It is more than 700 meters (2,300 feet) deep at its deepest point.

It’s not so much the water that Tanzania and Malawi are quarreling about, but rather, what lies beneath it. That’s because the sediments beneath Lake Malawi, or Lake Nyasa as it is known in Tanzania, are rumored to hold large reserves of oil and natural gas—reserves that both countries hope to exploit.

But there is a significant snag. While the lake borders Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania, a colonial-era document gives ownership of the entire lake to Malawi. Tanzania, however, claims that 50 percent of the lake lies within its territory, and has requested that Malawi halt exploration for oil. Malawi has so far refused.

The countries’ presidents are expected to meet within the next week to discuss the issue, and Malawi’s President Joyce Banda has said her country will avoid war. But even if the two leaders can come to an agreement, other challenges could arise. As local media outlet the Tanzania Daily News wrote: “[The lake] is home to over 2,000 different fish species and oil exploration on the freshwater lake will likely rile environmentalists who fear it will disturb its ecosystem.”

With growing water scarcity, which has been linked to global security issues, the large volume of freshwater contained in Lake Malawi may soon become more valuable than any hydrocarbons hidden in its depths.

This entry was posted on Monday, August 20th, 2012 at 5:21 am and is filed under Tanzania.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  Both comments and pings are currently closed. 

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