Identifying Climate-Sensitive Health Risks and Climate Adaptation Strategies in Malawi


19 July 2017

Image: The Malawi Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment was conducted according to WHO guidelines, measuring the vulnerability of Malawi’s health system as a function of the exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity of that system to climate change and climate variation.

Understanding the nature of country-specific climate and health risks is a crucial first step to finding appropriate risk management solutions. From 2015 to 2016, the Malawian Ministry of Health led a Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment (V&A) to understand the climate and health context in the country. The assessment, conducted by a team of local experts from the University of Malawi Polytechnic in Blantyre and supported jointly by GIZ and NORAD, included a detailed investigation of climate-sensitive health risks, an analysis of current capacity, and the identification of immediate and long-term response options.


The V&A Assessment provides an important baseline of emerging risks, identifies needs in high risk districts, and serves to build capacity and partnerships, as well as inform activities to fill knowledge gaps through climate-informed diagnostics and products.

What is a Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment?


A Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment (V&A) is the iterative process of identifying and quantifying climate-sensitive health risks, measuring health service and community capacity to effectively manage those risks, and identifying corresponding adaptation strategies.


An effective V&A Assessment will meet the following objectives:


1. Identify environmental and socio-economic vulnerability factors and current incidence and distribution of climate-sensitive diseases;

2. Examine the links between climate and climate-sensitive diseases to future impacts;

3. Assess the health sector needs and capacity to address the additional disease burdens due to the effects of climate change; and

4. Provide recommendations to strengthen the health sector’s adaptation capacity to climate change.

Principle Health Risks of Climate in Malawi

The results of the V&A Assessment show that malaria, diarrhoeal diseases, and malnutrition are all influenced by seasonal, inter-annual climate variability and that the underlying risks causing each are likely to be exacerbated by climate change.


Specifically, the findings of the V&A show that the incidence of diarrhoea may increase in Lilongwe, Salima and Chikwawa Districts. In Lilongwe District, malaria is projected to increase while malnutrition will decrease by about 5% by 2030. In Chikwawa, both malaria and malnutrition are set to decrease by 2030 by 4.8% and 1.5%, respectively.


Recommendations for Action

The study highlights numerous remaining knowledge gaps where additional health and climate data and analyses are needed for further analyses. The V&A also identifies the need for better coordination among the various players and organisations that address climate change issues and to build capacity (human, financial, and institutional) in the Ministry of Health to better address the impacts of climate and health.


While the V&A in Malawi identifies serious health risks due to climate change and variability, the assessment also highlights a number of adaptation measures that have great potential to mitigate the effects of climate change on health. Based on well-established research, the V&A identifies response strategies for each of the principle health risks:

  • Malaria: increased use of insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) and mosquito repellents.
  • Diarrhoea: implementation of household water treatment and safe storage (HWTS), such as water filtration and chlorination; and improved sanitation and personal hygiene.
  • Malnutrition: improved income generation through causal labour; implementation of crop diversification, growing of drought-resistant varieties, winter cropping and irrigated agriculture to improve climate change resilience and food security at household level.


Community-based initiatives offer tangible actions communities can take to address water quality, improve malnutrition and provide additional malaria control. The impacts of global climate change on health manifest in locally specific ways. In Malawi, these community adaptation measures present an opportunity to significantly lower the impacts of climate change on overall population health.