Cyclone victims coffins on sale
By Isaac Salima:
Some mortuary attendants at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) are cashing in on coffins that were procured to be used to bury victims of Tropical Cyclone Freddy, The Daily Times can reveal.
Blantyre District Council, through the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma), bought 99 coffins at a cumulative amount of K23 million to be used for burying bodies of people who died in the cyclone’s trail in the event that their bodies got recovered.
The coffins were placed at QECH mortuary, but following the completion of the exercise, after the search for missing people was halted, the remaining ones are still at the referral hospital.
We can, however, confirm that some mortuary attendants at the hospital have been selling the funerary boxes without the knowledge of authorities.
On Wednesday, we visited the place where we managed to count about 16 of the remaining ones. Two of them were sold in our presence.
We asked one of the people who had bought the coffins and he disclosed that he had paid K60,000 for it.
“They initially offered it at K80,000 but after negotiations, we have given them K60,000,” the person said.
Disguising ourselves as customers, we inquired from one of the attendants the prices of the coffins.
“We have several types. Some are being sold at K120,000 each but you can pay K100,000. The others are selling at K80,000,” the attendant said.
He claimed that they are issuing receipts for the sold coffins.
However, QECH Director Kelvin Mponda said he was not aware of the selling of the coffins let alone their existence at the hospital.
In a separate interview, Dodma Commissioner Charles Kalemba said they only made payments for the procurement of the coffins and that they did not make any follow ups.
On his part, Blantyre District Commissioner Alex Mdooko also said he was not aware that the coffins were being sold at the mortuary.
“We had to store the coffins at the mortuary because it was a convenient place. However, some of the bodies were recovered in a decomposed state and could not be put in coffins.
“You may also know that some of the dead were Muslims, who do not use coffins; so that led to the surplus. However, I am not aware that the coffins are on sale. Those who are doing that will definitely pay for it because we have somebody who was handling the issue,” Mdooko said.
He further said that they had left the coffins at the mortuary to allow the decommissioning process of camps to finish because same coffins were to be used for those who might die while in camps.
Two weeks after the cyclone lashed southern Malawi in March this year, Dodma said it had lost hope that 537 people who were missing in the disaster’s trail would be found.
Last week, Kalemba told the Budget and Finance Committee of Parliament that his department had written off the possibility of finding the people.
He said even after using excavators and sniffer dogs to sift through the muddy rubble, search teams did not find the missing people.
“Government and well-wishers used every available tool to search for the missing people but to no avail. So from the advice from experts, probably the people were buried in the landslides,” the Dodma commissioner said.
The notice that there was no hope of finding any survivor meant that at least 1,200 people died in the wake of the cyclone after 676 bodies were officially recorded to have been found.
The cyclone displaced more than 650,000 people and injured 2,171 in the Southern Region apart from destroying crucial public infrastructure such as roads and bridges.
Blantyre was the most hit district with 434,586 people affected followed by Mulanje with 362,135, Zomba with 322,938, Phalombe with 258,557, Mangochi with 230,373 and Chiradzulu with 191,883.
The cyclone also hit Mozambique and Madagascar but its impacts were worst felt in Malawi.
During Labour Day celebrations, President Lazarus Chakwera disclosed that the damage that the tempest left in its trail had been estimated at over $500 million (approximately K518 billion).
Chakwera said though government had immediately released K1.6 billion and received additional support from Malawians, neighbouring countries and development partners for the response, the country still has a shortfall of K107.3 billion to address the humanitarian needs that the affected populations are expected to face until the middle of June.
“In economic terms, Cyclone Freddy alone has sunk more workers into unemployment and poverty, increased their food insecurity and malnutrition and reduced their access to health, education, utility, transport and sanitation services,” the President said.
He added that after the emergency period has passed, experts also estimate that the work of recovery and reconstruction will cost an additional K700 billion, which the country does not have and which is outside the recently passed national budget.