After Cylone Freddy, now collective efforts towards resilience
A month has passed since Cyclone Freddy caused mayhem and devastation south of Malawi. What efforts are being done towards building long-term resilience to such hazards? CHARLES MKOKA writes:
After experiencing one of the worst climate related hazards in Malawi’s history, Nellie Omara, 82 years old, who hails from Malinga Village in Group Village Headman Maholi in Traditional Authority Mwambo in Zomba narrates the ordeal she went through.
She recalls the trail of devastation left behind by Cyclone Freddy.
Omara who struggles to walk and uses a stick, does household chores alone. She is traumatised by the experience.
“I have never seen such kind of waters the rest of my life,” she recounts.
“If it were not my children that came to rescue me during the time we experienced the cyclone, I would have been dead now because I can’t walk. They took me to a safe area,” she says.
However, where she was taken to, flooding waters also raged around 3 am on March 14.
“This time around the Phalombe River had burst its seams. It is from here, I was evacuated to the nearest health centre,” Omara explains.
Omara’s story is corroborated by Joyce Majamanda who explained that they escaped the cyclone wrath with only clothes on their bodies.
In most of the hard-hit districts, essential services such as roads, bridges, health, energy installation facilities and schools were badly damaged.
Majority of those accommodated in camps had their houses collapsed, property washed away including their crops which were almost ready for harvest.
World Bank CCDR analysis
An October 2022 analysis by the World Bank Group published in the Country Climate Development Report (CCDR) for Malawi shows that climate change will impose large costs on the economy and on already vulnerable households.
If Malawi stays on its current low-growth development trajectory, climate change could reduce Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 3–9 percent in 2030, 6–20 percent in 2040, and 8–16 percent by 2050.
While this finding is not surprising, the magnitude and variability of potential climate impacts is alarming for one of the poorest countries in the world. The largest impacts from climate change are projected to come from damage to roads and bridges and reinforce what the country is currently experiencing in terms of large damage from current climate shocks to infrastructure assets.
The analysis finds that over the next 10 years, climate shocks on the economy could push another 2 million people into poverty (an increase in poverty rate by 8 percentage points), increasing to 4 million additional poor by 2040.
The Bretton Woods Institution findings demonstrate that development, as set out in Malawi’s Agenda 2063, provides a strong basis for strengthening resilience to climate impacts.
If Malawi were to accelerate implementation of policies and programs envisioned in the Agenda 2063, the development trajectory would shift to a higher growth path and climate change impacts would be significantly reduced.
Under this scenario, the magnitude and variability of the potential reduction in GDP from impacts of climate change are smaller: 3–7 percent in 2030, 3–9 percent in 2040, and 4–7 percent by 2050.
By supporting higher-quality infrastructure and a more diversified economy, economic development is found to be one of the most powerful forms of adaptation.
Parliament passes a DRM Act
In the wake of the results of cyclone Freddy there have been urgent efforts to ensure there is an enabling legislative environment by revising the 1991 Disaster Risk Management Act considered obsolete to challenges of Cyclone Freddy nature in the country.
Civil Society Network on Climate Change (Cisonecc), using the diverse expertise within the think-tank, analysed the draft Disaster Risk Management Bill brought before Parliament for review.
The think-tank highlighted 63 gaps in the various sections and compiled feedback and suggested proposed amendments.
On Wednesday this week Parliament passed bill into law after amending some of the proposed sections of the bill.
“The bill [now act] must create a separate vote for disaster risk management in order for Parliament to allocate resources for preparedness and response.
“More importantly, powers should be devolved to local government,” said Julius Ngoma, Cisonecc National Coordinator, during a presser on Tuesday.
Unfortunately this suggestion was not included in the amendment.
Award Fellowship supports agri-food policies
With most livelihoods dependent on agriculture, Malawians are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate-related shocks and stresses, and households headed by women suffer the most.
As such, effective policies are critical if research innovations are to provide gender-inclusive, sustainable solutions which allow Africa to develop equitable agri-food systems capable of feeding its growing population.
Climate-induced shocks are threatening the food security of millions of Malawians – 20 percent of the population were predicted to need emergency food assistance as of March 2023.
To address these concerns, effective policies are critical.
Sara Ephrida Tione works at the Ministry of Agriculture. She is also one of the eight mid-career Malawian women and one of the 49 from across Africa 2022 policy fellows in the Gender Responsive Agriculture Systems Policy (Grasp) Fellowship, an initiative of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (Award) funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
According to Tione, policymakers need to incorporate research into design and decision-making if policies are to be truly effective.
“Research should be done to inform policy. This is a synergy that is key for development,” she says,
The problem, notes Tendai Museka Saidi of the policy advocacy organisation, Cisanet, is that many policymakers currently overlook leading voices that can beneficially inform their work.
For instance, she says, nutritionists are often not invited to the decision-making table.
“But they need to be at the forefront of making sure policies incorporate good nutrition as a key outcome,” she says, another of the Award fellows from Malawi.
As manager of the United Nations Development Program’s ‘Poverty Environment Action for Sustainable Development Goals Project’, Linda Chinangwa is at the forefront of initiatives designed to empower women and reduce poverty reduction.
A key element of this, she reveals, involves community training sessions – an approach that she calls “fulfilling.”
While some of these Malawian fellows’ work indirectly influences policy change, a few are directly engaged in policy matters on a regular basis.
For instance, through her directorial role at Nkhata-Bay District Council, Beatrice Mbakaya of Nkhata Bay district council offers policy guidance on activities affecting the forestry, agriculture, environment, irrigation, water, and mining sectors.
‘Affordable, urgent priorities’
To build long-term resilience CCDR suggests the need for a wide array of investments, policy reforms, and other interventions.
The analysis points to three priorities that are affordable and urgent. These are building infrastructures that withstand climate shocks and stressors, halt and reverse widespread land degradation and finally address climate impacts on labour productivity and household livelihoods.
As Malawi counts the losses caused by Cyclone Freddy, survivors like Omara live with scars and injustices. It is a reminder of the bluntness of the impacts climate change is inflicting on innocent Malawians.