Taking from the rural to serve the urban

The Likhubula water project and the slow violence of water abstraction in Malawi


  • Dave Namusanya Abertay University
  • Ashley Rogers University of Stirling
  • Daniel Gilmour Abertay University


Malawi, water, slow violence, Green criminology, ethnography


Despite community protests in the Mulanje District of Southern Malawi, the Malawi government in November 2016 launched a $23.5 million project to abstract water from the Likhubula River in rural Mulanje and transport it almost 70 kilometres away to Malawi’s commercial capital of Blantyre. Drawing on findings from ongoing ethnographic observations in Southern Malawi, this paper presents the Likhubula Water Project as a form of slow violence causing social
harms that perpetuate colonial legacies. It engages with the complexities of the project, recognising
the pressure placed on water resources as a socio-political need in response to the impacts of climate change, population growth and rapid urbanisation while at the same time identifying this as a form of slow violence in which the harms from the water project are not only in the ‘mining’ of water to benefit urban life but also in terms of the disregard for the significance of the water to local communities. We conclude that the act of exposing the area to water exploration and exploitation presents the possibility of perpetuating other forms of environmental harm in areas where there is already significant pressure on land, forest and water resources.

Author Biographies

Dave Namusanya, Abertay University

Dave Namusanya, is a PhD candidate in Criminology and Sociology at Abertay University where he is also a graduate teaching assistant within the Division of Sociology. His PhD research is on ecological grief, climate change, and changing water practices in Malawi. His research interests lie broadly within qualitative research, indigenous knowledge, environmental humanities, popular culture and communication for development.

Ashley Rogers , University of Stirling

Ashley Rogers, is a Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Stirling and is part of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research. Her research explores and combines issues of femicide and women’s rights, socio legal studies, access to water, forced migration, and the construction of knowledge. She has conducted ethnographic fieldwork in Bolivia and worked on interdisciplinary projects in Malawi and Zimbabwe.

Daniel Gilmour, Abertay University

Daniel Gilmour, is Professor of Sustainability Assessment and Enhancement at Abertay University. His research focuses on the enhancement of sustainability in the natural and built environment with interests in the fields of sustainability assessment, decision support and public participation in decision making, in particular sustainable service provision. He has been actively engaged in research over the last 20 years in the field of sustainable decision making, working on a range of projects within government, local government and the water industry.