Oval 377 Created with Sketch Beta. Lilongwe, Malawi

Lilongwe stakeholders are continuously consulted regarding their challenges and needs relating to rivers. These findings inform all project activities and further areas of engagement.

UNA Programme cities 2019


  • The population of Lilongwe is close to 700 000 people.
  • The main rivers in Lilongwe are the Lilongwe, Lingadzi, Nankhaka and Chankhandwe Rivers.
  • The Lilongwe River is the biggest and longest river and the primary source of water for Lilongwe city residents.

Oval 377 Created with Sketch Beta. 2016 Achievements

The Lilongwe Urban River Revitalisation Plan was developed in close partnership with the Lilongwe City Council, as well as community members, through intensive public participation processes. We are now implementing components of this.

The methodology used to develop the Lilongwe Urban River Revitalisation Plan was as follows:

  • Stakeholder identification to highlight all key participants for engagement throughout the project (these include national government departments, private sector, NGOs, Lilongwe City Council officials, vendor associations, community members and market traders).
  • Extensive consultation, engagement, site visits and small meetings held with all key stakeholders in order to assess the challenges and opportunities of the site, and provide key inputs into the design and functionality of the space.
  • A draft and then final implementation plan was shared with stakeholders, allowing concerns to be taken into account and project ownership ensured.
  • Extensive engagement to develop a phased implementation strategy (with an associated budget) through a prioritisation exercise of the numerous activities presented under the plan.

Outputs that contributed to the Lilongwe Urban River Revitalisation Plan are:

  • A site analysis;
  • A phased implementation strategy (with accompanying budget); and
  • The establishment of a steering and technical advisory committee that oversees the implementation of the plan.

The City of Lilongwe’s Local Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan was updated and completed. In addition, keyholders were introduced to the Building Capacity for the Subnational Implementation of National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) project and information was gathered to feed into this project. Impressive Guidelines for an Integrated Approach in the Development and Implementation of National, Subnational and Local Biodiversity Strategies has been developed by ICLEI CBC and partners.

A well-known local singer, Lulu (based in Malawi), produced a unique song called Rivers for Life on why rivers are important. This song is being used to mobilise local communities so that they protect their urban rivers.

A River provides water
It beautifies the city
Trees depend on rivers,
Reeds rely on the river
The Fish you like
Tilapia you like
Different species depend on rivers
Vegetation/ Plants require water, animals too
Every living thing depends on rivers


How about grass for thatching/ roofing our houses?
A river is a source of Life
Let’s conserve rivers
Reeds and all the roofing materials
Let’s conserve rivers
Animals require water
Aaa… let’s conserve rivers
Stop dumping wastes into rivers
Aaa… let’s conserve rivers
How about grass for thatching our houses
Rivers are a source of life
Let’s conserve them


Stop dumping wastes into rivers
Aaaa let’s preserve rivers
Rivers are a source of life
Let’s conserve them
Animals require water
Aaa… let’s conserve rivers
Stop dumping wastes into rivers


Could you be happy to lose all the trees?
Could you be happy to lose all the animals?
One day all the fish will be gone (fish extinction)
All the grass and vegetation will suffer
What will you use for thatching and roofing materials?
Look at the environment
It is the rivers that provides its beauty
Let’s conserve and protect Rivers
Lilongwe River needs special protection
Do not dump your wastes,
It is a source of life
The river passes through our city
Am afraid one day it will all dry



Tell your friend to share with the other friend
The other friend in turn should tell a close neighbour that people as well rely on the river
Washing, drinking even body cleaning/ bathing as well
Let’s be responsible and conserve the river for our own good
Let’s be like the water, sand and rocks which unite to support the river
You and I can do the same to conserve and avoid river extinction eee…

How about grass for thatching our houses
Let’s conserve rivers
Reeds and all the roofing materials
Let’s conserve rivers
Animals require water
Aaa… Let’s conserve rivers
Stop dumping wastes into rivers
Aaa… Let’s conserve rivers

Oval 377 Created with Sketch Beta. 2017 Achievements

During the development of the Lilongwe Urban River Revitalisation Plan, waste management was prioritised by city stakeholders, and accordingly a waste management strategy is being rolled out for a portion of the Lilongwe River.

Activities implemented to date include:

  1. Awareness and capacity building around waste management and the importance of protecting urban natural assets;
  2. Training 12 women in composting;
  3. Establishing compost areas and
  4. Conducting waste clean-ups.

A focus area of this implementation is to improve human well-being through livelihood creation, e.g. through sustainable compost making and using waste in the production of art pieces.

To date a variety of lessons for implementation have been learnt. These include:

  • Improved understanding of the immense effort and time needed in order to effectively build partnerships and relationships.
  • Recognising that in certain contexts it may be helpful to see informal areas as unserviced rather than unplanned.
  • How specific projects, like this river revitalisation project, that rely on multi-stakeholder engagements, can assist in bridging the divide between city officials and community members.
  • How important co-production processes are, where all stakeholders have the opportunity to influence the design, planning and implementation of projects, particularly in relation to ensuring project ownership and buy-in.
  • That there are often structured governance systems in place in informal areas that can be harnessed for successful project implementation.
  • Enhanced understanding of procedures and processes vital to the success of implementation projects in African cities.
  • The role and effectiveness (or non-effectiveness) of on-the-ground activation or pilot projects.
  • The importance of context specific information in participatory planning.

In order to document the change at the site (through the implementation component described above), Photovoice has been used. Photovoice is a qualitative method used for community-based participatory research to document and reflect reality. It is an empowering and flexible process that combines photography with local level action. Participants involved in Photovoice include community members of all ages and status. Participants are asked to express their points of view or represent their communities by photographing scenes that highlight themes (e.g. change at the site). The photographs are then collaboratively interpreted through discussions in both small and large groups, and narratives can be developed that explain how the photos highlight a particular issue and aspect. The photos and narratives are then used to promote dialogue and mobilise change-makers (e.g. policymakers) to better understand the community, and thus develop effective solutions that address contextual issues and needs. For more information, see our Waste is Wealth article and the Waste is Wealth video.

Mapping services for the City of Lilongwe began in 2016 and include developing:


1. Wildlife sightings and biodiversity maps;

Carnivore sightings across habitat types
Bat species and their occurance
Number of bat species across habitat types

2. Habitat distribution maps;

Habitat types and percentage cover in Lilongwe
Habitat types in Lilongwe

3. Land use change maps and information to showcase the spatial extent that the Lilongwe River and its catchment has been degraded in relation to land practices;

Land use change in Lilongwe

4. An urban natural asset priority map, which showcases areas for no development and limited development;

Note: The priority UNA hotspot areas (identified by dark red) refer to areas where development should be avoided at all times. The high priority areas (identified by red-orange) is where development should be avoided at all times. However, if this is unavoidable then no net loss of vegetation needs to be ensured. The habitat needs to be enhanced post development. The middle priority areas (orange) refer to areas that can be developed however it is advised that the habitat be enhanced after development. The low priority areas (yellow-white) refer to areas where development is advisable. It is still advised that habitat is enhanced during and after development.

UNA hotspot areas in Lilongwe

5. A risk assessments relating to climate change impacts for the Lilongwe catchment;

This preliminary investigation highlights the possible magnitude of the reduction in surface and soil moisture runoff in the Lilongwe River catchment under severe climate change scenarios. While the study has been undertaken at a high‐level only it has revealed the potential modelled responses of the catchment to climate change. These responses are based on the A2 SRES scenario, which is effectively current business as usual in terms of global CO2 emissions. It is possible that the global effort will result in a less severe scenario. However, even a fraction of these modelled responses would have severe ramifications.

While river flow is likely to be reduced due to higher temperatures, and become more erratic due to less consistent rainfall, there is still potential for reservoirs to provide the bulk of Lilongwe’s water needs. As climate change progresses, however, more storage will be required to cope with the drier rainfall cycles that are foreseen.

Of more significance is the potential reduction in soil‐moisture runoff in the rural areas within the catchment. The shallow wells and boreholes that supply water to these communities in the dry season are dependent on sub‐surface flow for their replenishment. It appears from preliminary modelling that these dry season sub‐surface flows are under serious threat if climate change progresses on its current trend. In addition to climate change, the land degradation within the catchment plays a major effect in the hydrological response of the catchment. In order to make the catchment area more resilient there are certain policies that could be implemented to improve infiltration and reduce flash surface runoff events. These include:

• Reforestation
• Minimum till agriculture reducing exposed soil and increasing mulching
• Use of contours in cropped areas.

6. A water quality overview for sections of the Lilongwe River; and

Note: The red blocks refer to a poorer water quality whilst the white dots refer to a better water quality.

Water quality along sites on the Lilongwe river

7. Planning recommendations based on priority natural assets.

Planning recommendations based on the UNA priorities
Map to show areas that should be monitored

Through this process ICLEI Africa has developed a methodology for assessment, selection and identification of priority areas in urban areas, which considers where urban expansion will most significantly affect natural habitat and biodiversity. A guideline to discuss this method and lessons learnt will be developed in 2018.

The UNA Rivers project aims to mobilise governments in the project cities to create plans that integrate the role of biodiversity and ecosystems in sustainable urban development. In Lilongwe, we have:

  1. Held effective cross-sectoral dialogues, e.g. between land use planners and environmental officers, and
  2. Conducted capacity building on the importance of biodiversity and ecosystem services and the need for natural assets to be sustainably managed via integration into development policy and planning systems.

After presenting the urban natural asset information that ICLEI Africa developed for Lilongwe, a participatory exercise was undertaken. This involved asking the questions below to different stakeholders. Their consolidated answers are also given below:

How is mapped urban natural asset information valuable to you?

  • It is crucial for planning and decision making.
  • It improves consideration of environmental issues when reviewing policies and by-laws.
  • It supports the mainstreaming of environmental issues into implementation projects.
  • It improves communication campaigns that are aimed at a community level.
  • It provides opportunities to relate issues of biodiversity and planning.
  • It provides a clear link between biodiversity, climate change, land use change and resilient cities.
  • It identifies high risk areas where development should be controlled.


How can mapped urban natural asset information be used in your everyday work?

  • For better enforcement and preservation of natural areas and resources.
  • For guiding the rehabilitation of sensitive areas.
  • We can provide better advice to prospective developers.
  • To provide a baseline from which to plan and keep track of environmental change.
  • To showcase the economic value of sustainably managing urban natural assets.

Oval 377 Created with Sketch Beta. 2018 Achievements

Lulu, a well-known local artist, produced a song titled Mpumulo (meaning Rivers for Life in Chichewa) to help spread the message of the need to restore and protect rivers. A music video was then also produced. 2000 CDs were made and handed out to local communities as well as “burn centres” were individuals can load the song onto their USB. A press conference was held in June where the song was officially launched and released. More information about the song and the launch thereof can be found here.

The THRIVE mobile app (previously developed under UNA Africa) was converted into posters by children in local schools and initiated a learning and art programme. The THRIVE app presents a step-by-step guide on how to implement nature-based solutions. Eight of these nature-based solutions have been chosen and in partnership with art clubs at schools, students made posters (using waste) and then implemented a nature-based solution on the school premises. Based on its success, the Ministry of Education in Malawi asked for capacity building of the THRIVE app and the related approach use by the UNA Rivers project.

A major barrier in moving forward with the urban natural asset hotspot map (created in 2017) was lack of enforcement. As a result, the LCC requested support with this challenge and a report that outlines and prioritises inspections of high priority urban natural assets was developed.

The Sustainable River-based Urban Planning guideline document (and supporting case study document) was finalised and training occurred with all key stakeholders.

Capacity building of ministry officials linked to mainstreaming natural assets at a national level (aligned with handing over the priority of urban natural asset hotspot maps and identifying ways forward) occurred. The priority urban natural asset hotspot maps were handed over with strategic ways forward being discussed.

The project supported the Ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development with the review of their national urban policy and the national land use policy. Comments were integrally linked to improving the importance of planning for nature in urban areas. These were signed off by the Ministry in 2019.

The UNA team provided in-depth comments as well as submitted information (including key UNA lessons) to the 6th national report that was submitted to the CBD in 2018.

All cities participating in the UNA programme were invited to attend and participate in a city to city knowledge exchange event in Entebbe, Uganda. Participating cities were able to share key challenges affecting their city’s development as well as share and learn about common African solutions which could be replicated in each city. Included in the workshop was a) the sharing of lessons learnt; b) visiting inspiring projects; c) discussing the UNA Rivers methodology; d) presentation and dissemination of the Sustainable River-Based Urban Planning Guidelines and case study document and e) presentations by individual cities on the related work they are currently implementing. A key output was a co-produced programme of action on how each city can take the learnings forward. Delegates from the Lilongwe City Council as well as the Ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development attended the UNA city to City Learning Exchange in Entebbe.

Building on the implementation activities initiated at the Lizulu and Tsoka market in 2017 the following was initiated in 2018:

  • River clean-up activities;
  • Improving the processes of waste management at the site through capacity building and awareness;
  • Engaging with all market users so they know how and where to take their waste (working with the bridge owners);
  • Purchasing and distributing bins at important places;
  • Developing a sustainable process for the market leaders (and others) to take the bins to the compost area daily;
  • Putting in place a better system for buying and selling the made compost;
  • Improved demarcation of the compost area so that waste can be better sorted and dropped off;
  • Erecting educational signage; and
  • Constructing a shelter for the women composter and to store the tools.

Selected activities continued into 2019. A waste process flow diagram was developed in support of improving the flow of waste at the site and communication thereof

Building on the work initiated in 2017, the method of PhotoVoice was used to document change in a local Malawi community. More information available here.

Oval 377 Created with Sketch Beta. 2019 Achievements

Partnering with the Lilongwe City Council, greening of riverbanks on the Lingazi River began. This initiative addresses flooding and erosion control challenges whilst restoring biodiversity in the area.

National and subnational government officials came together in a national-local dialogue in order to engage and contribute to the process of developing a robust post-2020 global biodiversity framework. The results of this dialogue were made available to the CBD and were also presented during a post 2020 global webinar.

Oval 377 Created with Sketch Beta. 2020 Achievements

Lingazi River greening activities (to address flooding and erosion control challenges whilst restoring biodiversity in the area) concluded.

Capacity building and training, including training of the Sustainable Rivers Guidelines as well as how to develop an Investment Case with relevant officials occurred.

Supported the city develop an ecological corridor plan and a concept note for waste management.

Continued mainstreaming of natural assets into planning processes, using innovative virtual methods and entry points identified by each city (building on the dialogues, activities and processes initiated previously) whilst supporting wrap-up of project activities.

Oval 377 Created with Sketch Beta. Overarching strategic achievements

Other higher level achievements in Lilongwe include:

  1. The establishment of a steering committee and technical advisory board (made up of city representatives) to deal primarily with managing urban rivers in the city.
  2. The facilitation of dialogue between different sectors, e.g. land use planners and environmentalists.
  3. Co-developing new ways for city officials to engage with and view informal areas in the city.
  4. Creating many transformative spaces for improved dialogue and processes (such as land use planners and environmental officers engaging for the first time etc.)
  5. Improved co-ordination between key stakeholders that work with natural assets in the city.
  6. Receiving council approval for the project activities whilst building strong partnerships with politicians and decision makers.
  7. Engaging with national ministries to discuss the adoption of the UNA Rivers methodology by other urban centres in Malawi.
  8. Presenting on the importance of biodiversity and the UNA Rivers work to the International Women’s Association of Malawi.
  9. ICLEI facilitated the attendance of Lilongwe at the Resilience Cities Congres, the 23rd Climate Change COP and the URBIO 2018 conference. Prior to the Resilience Cities Congress, Lilongwe officials received training on EPIC-N.
  10. Challenging the way waste is viewed and dealt with; seeing waste as a resource that can be used to improve livelihoods, e.g. compost making.
  11. Directly improving livelihoods and alleviating poverty by enacting composting and waste management activities.
  12. Improved understanding of the socio-economic importance of biodiversity and ecosystem services to all levels of decision making within the city council.
  13. Improved understanding of the institutional framework and decision-making processes in the City of Lilongwe (entry points for change identified).
  14. Established a team of focal points dedicated to the project.
  15. Challenged the way communities are included in the cities planning processes.

Oval 377 Created with Sketch Beta. Gallery

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