This country has through the years witnessed a number of natural disasters such as floods but the recent effects stemming from Cyclone Ana, which saw many districts in the Southern Region receiving heavy and incessant rains for almost three days, have surely left many in despair, several days later.
The pictures and video clips captured at the height of the floods, which are said to have largely been influenced by Tropical Storm Ana, would force one to shed a tear as a lot of lives were lost because, according to Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma), as of January 31, the figure of those dead stood at 33 while 158 injuries were recorded. In districts such as Chikwawa and Nsanje, there are many households that have lost property and are being kept in makeshift camps. We have also heard how tough it is in some parts of Zomba, Mulanje and Mwanza where the rains also wreaked havoc and people were left stranded.
If you thought that was it; then you’re in for more heartache; the M1 Road after Kamuzu Bridge down in Chikwawa was cut off at almost five different places, which made it difficult to send out supplies and other relief items to those in need. Thank God that those doing the repair works have worked with a sense of urgency, which has seen some repair works done. It was hectic as people had to literary abandon their vehicles at Thabwa and hoof it all the way across Kamuzu Bridge. It is clear that had those doing the repairs not moved in quickly, there would certainly have been devastation as supplies would have undoubtedly run out and there would not have been a steady way of getting them replenished since we are told by Dodma that even the Malawi Defence Force helicopter that was assisting them had, at one point, developed a fault.
I cannot begin to imagine the pain and loss experienced by the flood victims. It is not easy to cultivate your land and rear livestock, only to watch it all, in a flash, get washed away by floods. People invested by erecting both homes and business premises but sadly, a lot of it is now just a distant memory following the wrath of tropical storm Ana.
I am told there are others who had taken heed of the advice from the authorities well before hand to move uplands but they have not been spared from the catastrophe as well. Let us hope more and more organisations will come in and assist with emergency aid.
At this point, allow me to commend President Lazarus Chakwera for coming out quickly to declare the affected districts as being in a state of disaster. Not only that but the Malawi leader also physically went to the lower Shire, first by plane and then trekked down to Thabwa via road to appreciate the extent of damage and re-assure the affected people that they are not alone and government will do what it can to ensure that they quickly get back on their feet.
One thing however that keeps popping up in my mind and perhaps it is something that the government needs to seriously look into is the way our emergency relief is coordinated. Having experienced floods for years, we should have, by now, devised a system whereby relief items would have already been in some of the locations that have been affected. I am talking about having warehousing facilities so that when such places are cut off due to infrastructural damage, there should not be any panicking. We should not be having a full-fledged government agency like Dodma getting its shipment ready for dispatch at a bare ground like Njamba Park in Blantyre. What have they been doing over the years? Storage should not be restricted to places such as Blantyre and Lilongwe (I am told at one point there was even a facility at Malangalanga where relief items stored were poorly handled).
Overall, I think our emergency response leaves a lot to be desired. This other day I also touched on the subject, only that in that episode I had focused on fire and medical response in our cities but certainly there are a lot of lessons we can draw from he recent floods.
May the souls of those that have died during the disaster rest in eternal peace and may the one up above abide with us as we continue to count our loses.
Stephen Dakalira is a seasoned Journalist who works as Times Group’s Online and Digital Executive Editor. He is also the Assistant Editor of The Sunday Times Newspaper, and author of Full Circle column which appears in Malawi News; all of these under the Times Group stable.
He has previously worked in key positions for some of Malawi’s key media institutions such as Malawi News Agency, Capital FM Radio and Star Radio (Now Timveni Radio).