Climate disasters raise demand for sexual reproductive health services


When Cyclone Freddy hit the country in March, the Lower Shire was one of the areas hugely impacted. Roads were cut off, many houses washed away and hundreds displaced — now sheltered in camps. Today, hundreds still live in evacuation camps where demand for family planning and sexual and reproductive health services is rising. DINGAAN MITHI writes

Anne Charles, a 20-year-old mother of one child, is among those at Ntolongo Camp in the area of Traditional Authority Tengani. She recounts what happened in March when floods hit her village.

“It was in the night, rains fell for four days. I was sleeping in the house when we discovered water had flooded in. We ran to safety and before the house got swept away,” she said.

Anne is thankful to organisations who came to the rescue of the people staying in the camp with food aid in form of maize flour, cooking oil and soya pieces.


As part of relief efforts, Christian Aid Malawi is collaborating with Nsanje District Health Office and Development Aid from People to People (Dapp) building resilience of people in camps through providing them with food aid and access to sexual reproductive health services.

“Dapp came to our rescue. We had no food to eat. I lost all millet I stored in the house. Although the food we received from Dapp was not enough, it has greatly helped us,” said Anne whose husband went to Mozambique for some piecework before Tropical Cyclone Freddy struck.

In the intervention, Dapp is providing support to eight camps. These are Ntolongo, Kachere, Nyamithuthu, Mtondo, Ndiola, Kayerezi, Dumba and Mphamba.


As extreme weather events are growing in intensity as shown in the tropical storms, experts call on the government to put in place clear climate and health policies that prepare and ensure that critical family planning, HIV, TB and other sexual reproductive health services are available in such natural disasters.

These issues are evident in the evacuation camps where adolescents and young women are a conspicuous feature.

They are amongst the most vulnerable groups with limited access to menstrual hygiene, family planning and other sexual reproductive health services.

Health workers from Nsanje District Hospital and officials from Dapp and Christian Aid are providing vaccination for Under-5 children and also sexual reproductive health services.

Marita Story is an 18-year-old student in Form 2. She got displaced after her family’s house got washed away. One of her sisters got washed away.

An aspiring nurse, she describes Dapp and Christian Aid’s intervention as timely. However, she still laments lack of sanitary pads for adolescent girls, while noting the need of more condoms to tackle sexually transmitted infections.

“Here in the camp many sexual encounters do happen so it is important to have more condoms. Girls need money, so the easiest way many think of is to sleep around with men,” says Story

Master Dunga, a member of Ntolongo Camp Management Committee, says 307 households were affected in the area leading to many its members seeking shelter at the camp. At the camp, women are dominant members at 205 and have to care of children, while most men have migrated to other districts to work.

He said the demand for condoms and sexual reproductive health services in general is very high, often outstripping supply.

“Condoms are out of stock due to high demand. Family planning services are needed because in camp situations incidence of STIs is high,” Dunga said.

According to a study by Women Deliver, an organisation that champions gender equality and the health and rights of girls and women, linkages between climate change and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) have received little attention to date.

This, it says, could be due to a lack of governmental prioritization of SRHR in climate action in many countries, debates on the links between SRHR and climate change that are sensitive in nature, and historical siloes within and between the gender equality and climate change sectors.

Collins Tembo, Sexual Reproductive Health Coordinator at Nsanje District Hospital who also works closely works with Dapp in the camps, observed the need for interventions linking climate and sexual reproductive health need to be scaled up across the Lower Shire.

“Nsanje is one of the natural disaster-prone districts in Malawi and every year disasters happen. When people get displaced to these camps, access to family planning and other sexual reproductive health services becomes a huge challenge.

“In camps, we must ensure to reduce new HIV infections, unwanted pregnancies and STIs,” said Tembo who also comes from the district.

Tembo noted that Dapp and Christian Aid have set a good pace in linking displaced people in camps with health workers for access to sexual reproductive health services.

He lamented that in other places such as Mbenje and Makhanga, people are cut off due to infrastructure damage and they cannot access comprehensive sexual reproductive health services.

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