The misuse of mosquito nets for purposes other than protecting against mosquitoes in Ngabwe district of Zambia’s Central Province not only jeopardizes fish stocks but also exposes communities to the risk of malaria, as established by MakanDay.

In a situation that compromises their health and depletes fish stocks, fishing communities in the area have repurposed mosquito nets into fishing nets, indiscriminately capturing fish of all sizes.

The consequence has been a significant decline in the fish population, coupled with a persistent threat of malaria claiming many lives.

For example, a local health centre reported that all 10 members of a single household tested positive for malaria during a single hospital visit.

Dwindling fish stocks

On a Thursday morning, March 28th, 2024, 26-year-old Lynes Hang’ombe from Sendama village in Chief Mukubwe’s area of Ngabwe district heads to the waterfront to buy fish for her household.

After waiting for an hour for fishermen to return ashore, the mother of three is disappointed to find they have caught nothing. Dejectedly, she walks back home in search of an alternative dish.

Hang’ombe recalls the good old days when fish was abundant and affordable, while recognising the harsh truth of diminishing fish stocks and escalating prices.

Although unaware of the exact cause behind the decline, Hang’ombe acknowledges its impact on household food security.

Additionally, she is aware of how malaria is concurrently ravaging the local communities.

Caroline Kawina, 31, lives in Moto Village within Chief Ngabwe’s jurisdiction, where she operates as a local trader.

On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, Kawina, a mother of three with a husband who works as a fisherman, sells fritters, groundnuts, and Munkoyo (a local sweet beer) at the market situated on the banks of the Kafue River. Kafue holds the distinction of being Zambia’s longest river, stretching approximately 1,576 kilometers, and it lies wholly within the country.

Kawina acknowledges the dual challenges of diminishing fish stocks and high malaria cases prevalent in the district.

“Malaria is rampant here due to mosquitoes,” Kawina remarked, expressing concern over the declining fish population.

“This (Kafue) river is our mine. We depend on fishing for a living,” she said.

“So, this decline in fish stock is posing a challenge to our lives.”

Life in the new district

Established as a district in 2013, Ngabwe is situated approximately 140 km northwest of Kabwe, Central Province’s provincial town. The district shares borders with Mpongwe to the north, Chibombo to the south, Kasempa to the west, Mumbwa to the southwest, and Kapiri Mposhi to the east.

Fishing stands as the primary economic activity in this largely impoverished district, with over 80 percent of its population, totaling over 42,000 according to the 2022 Zambia Statistics Agency census, relying on it.

However, the prevalent misuse of mosquito nets for fishing has led to a drastic decline in fish stocks, as these nets indiscriminately capture even the smallest fish, contributing to the depletion of the fish population.

Disappointment for the fishermen

Fishermen opt for mosquito nets over conventional fishing gear because they guarantee a larger catch, capturing juvenile fish along with mature ones.

On a sunny Thursday morning, Alfred Chitila and his two colleagues slowly draw a long line containing multiple mosquito nets connected together towards the shore.

Aware of the slim chances of a good catch, yet pinning their hopes on divine intervention, they anticipate a miracle.

As they finally bring the nets to shore along the Kafue River, their expectations deflate. There are hardly a few Kasepa, a small fish breed, in the entire haul.

Chitila, recalling his past abundant catches, laments the decline in fish stocks.

"Kabili lesa ewupela (It is God who gives)," he consoles himself during a break, knowing the next session will be equally reliant on luck.

Though acknowledging the worrying decline in fish stocks, he fails to see the connection with the unsustainable use of mosquito nets for fishing.

Gibson Chimbabuya of Mumbachala in Chief Mukubwe’s area balances both fishing and farming. As a father of eight, Chimbabuya has witnessed the gradual depletion of fish stocks over the years, attributing it directly to the use of mosquito nets.

He expresses concern that unless the practice is halted, fish stocks will continue to dwindle, impacting both local food security and livelihoods.

“The use of mosquito nets is causing this decline. If mosquitos can’t penetrate, what more with fish,” Chimbabuya explains. “I don’t use mosquito nets for fishing. In fact, I work with the fisheries management committee to try to end the unsustainable fishing methods.”

Relaxed intervention fueling malaria infections

Chimbabuya criticises the government's lax approach in addressing the misuse of mosquito nets for fishing, emphasising the need for more stringent enforcement measures such as confiscation and penalties to deter offenders.

He believes that with proper intervention, the fish stock could recover significantly within a short time frame.

Additionally, he highlights the detrimental impact of using mosquito nets for fishing on malaria control efforts, emphasising the urgency of addressing this issue to effectively combat the disease.

“Malaria cannot be eradicated like this,” he said.

A call from the traditional leadership

Senior Headman Mumpande of Chief Mukubwe’s area expresses the concerns of traditional leaders regarding the misuse of mosquito nets amidst ongoing malaria outbreaks in local communities.

“Malaria is a significant issue here, particularly during the rainy season. We need collaboration between the government and traditional leaders to combat the misuse of mosquito nets, which are intended to prevent malaria,” he emphasised.

The Ministry of Health distributes an average of four mosquito nets per household, but unfortunately, these are often diverted for use as fishing nets.

Government’s response

Kelvin Mwila, the Ngabwe District Director of Health, describes the misuse of mosquito nets for fishing as a harmful cycle contributing to persistently high malaria incidences.

He cited an example where 10 members of a household tested positive for malaria at Ngabwe Mini-Hospital.

While we distributed mosquito nets door-to-door during the nationwide mass distribution, ensuring their proper use is another challenge,” Dr. Mwila stated. “From a health perspective, the progress made appears negligible.”

His department collaborates with traditional leaders and other stakeholders to address the misuse of mosquito nets for fishing.

Ngabwe District Fisheries and Livestock Co-ordinator Chikwe Makasa acknowledges that while the misuse of wrong fishing gear is not the sole cause of the unsustainable exploitation of fish resources, it significantly contributes to the problem.

He emphasises that their efforts to address this issue are hindered by transportation challenges, both on land and water.

Makasa expresses the need for additional resources, including two engine boats and a Land Cruiser vehicle, to enhance their patrol efforts.

He highlights the significance of the fisheries management committees, composed of both fishermen and local leadership, in educating fishermen about the importance of refraining from using mosquito nets for fishing. He said these committees play a crucial role in raising awareness among fishermen about the adverse effects of using mosquito nets for fishing.

“We are highly challenged by both land and water transport, but we are trying to do the best with what we have so that we can continue with patrols,” he said. We need two engine boats and a Landcruiser vehicle.”

Ray of Hope

Despite the challenges, there is optimism for improvement. Makasa highlights positive developments, such as increased government fuel supply over the last two years, despite outdated vessels. Furthermore, the government's plan to purchase four off-road motorbikes this year through the Constituency Development Fund, in response to community feedback, signals progress in the right direction.

Photo credit | Ngabwe Town Council Facebook page