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Death, anarchy in raging waters

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There has been a reduction in intensity and frequency of rainfall-related disasters in the country with most places which were worst hit last year breathing a sigh of relief after convenient respites this year. But elsewhere, like Karonga District, thousands of people have been hit by floods which have severely undermined their livelihoods as SAM KALIMIRA explores in this FRIDAY SHAKER.

Gogo Nyachilongo, who does not remember when she was born, says it is a miracle that she is still alive.

She only remembers that around midnight on February 23 2020, she was shaken up from her sleep by a strong gush of water that swept away all her belongings.

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She realised it was a mutual problem: everyone in the vicinity of her home was groping for a way out of the furious waters which were raging through her village.

“I fell down many times while running from the waters. Then I started crawling while singing hymns in preparation for my impending death. It seemed inevitable,” Gogo Nyachilongo recalls.

She miraculously escaped to safety—like some divine powers had winched her up from the angry waters, she states, a distant look registering in her eyes.

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“Thank God, I am finally here at the camp,” Gogo Nyachilongo says with a sigh.

Her story is similar to that that of Kacks Mhango, 60, who was also thrust into the camp by the raging waters which had pushed over 2,300 people out of their homes in Karonga District.

Mhango, who has mobility challenges, says he wobbled through the water for about three hours until he was safe. It was a distance of just about a kilometre.

“I watched as my bicycle was being washed away in the floods. I used my walking sticks to escape to safety. I watched as everyone fought their way out of the water. No one assisted me despite that I have a disability,” he says.

At least, his bicycle was saved by well-wishers.

Now, over 200 people are stuck at Baka Camp within Karonga Town Centre, in a church belonging to Holy Cross.

The camp is among 15 temporary shelters in the flood-prone lakeshore district which are accommodating at least 2,300 people pushed out of their homes by floods that have been sweeping through some parts of the district since January 24 this year.

Group Village Head Mwafiranso, who is also staying at Baka Camp, says the survivors are facing many challenges including inadequate space.

The chief also says they scramble for the little food that the government is providing through the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma).

At the camp, men and women also sleep in the same church building with their respective spaces separated by curtains.

“We sleep around the altar while women sleep in the nave of the church. There is no privacy and dignity. If we want to change clothes, we have to use the nearby bush,” Mwafiranso says.

He states that since they lost everything in the disaster, they survive on donations. Several houses collapsed while others were weakened to levels where they cannot be trusted anymore.

Poor sanitation

At Baka Camp, 209 survivors use one toilet. Congestion is unavoidable.

The people are at risk of contracting airborne and waterborne diseases.

Secretary of the camp’s committee, Brian Mwakikunga, says the condition poses terrible hazards to the welfare of the flood survivors.

“Only few mosquito nets were given to us. Many people, including children, are coughing and sneezing. We need urgent support because there is no food in our homes,” he says.

Mwakikunga goes on to state that with the coronavirus threat hovering over Malawi, there is panic in disaster camps in the district which borders Tanzania, one of the countries in Africa that have registered cases of the disease.

In other camps, there is an outbreak of bedbugs.

Karonga Acting Disaster Management Affairs Officer, Victor Phiri, says his office reported the bedbugs matter to Karonga District Hospital which only managed to fumigate two camps before running out of chemicals.

“We still need support in terms of food items and other basic needs. Otherwise, the number of affected people continues to rise. There is congestion. The tents which were donated to house some of the survivors are not enough,” Phiri said.

Education crisis

Children in other camps stopped going to school. This is so because their school uniforms, clothes and learning materials were washed away.

Some schools like Karonga CCAP Primary School temporarily suspended classes since its structures were also affected by the floods.

Winston M’bwana and Kate Sichali, both in Standard Six, say they were told that they would only return to school after the situation normalises.

“We just stay in this church because our school was closed. Of course, even if we go to school, we don’t write anything because all our materials went away with the water. Our parents say they don’t have money to buy other learning materials for us,” Winston says.

The Education Department of CCAP’s Livingstonia Synod, in a statement, says they momentarily closed the primary school and Karonga Girls Secondary School because the institutions could not keep learners when the structures were filled with water.

The department says keeping the learners would lay their health on the line.

Voters’ fears

Some flood survivors also lost their national identity (ID) cards. They are worried that the development may affect their participation in the fresh presidential election which was ordered by the Constitutional Court on February 3.

Harrison Mwenefumbo and his wife Asiyatu are among those who are worried that they may face challenges when they want to register to vote or to verify their particulars in the voters’ catalogue.

“We managed to save a few things but when we arrived at the camp, we realised that our IDs were not there. We don’t know if we are going to vote,” Harrison said.

But Malawi Electoral Commission spokesperson, Sangwani Mwafulirwa, says such issues will be tacked after the electoral body officially launches the elections period.

He, however, insisted that during last year’s elections, such people were allowed to vote after officials verified their name in the registers.

According to a Dodma updated report on the Karonga floods, 10,828 households have been affected out of which 7,428 are male while 3,400 are female. Most of these remain in their homes.

Houses, livestock, crops and infrastructure, including roads, also experienced the wrath of the disasters.

The report also indicates that 13 people have lost their lives while two are missing. The causes of the deaths are different disasters including lighting.

The majority of the affected people are from Paramount Chief Kyungu and T/As Mwakaoko, Mwirang’ombe and Wasambo.

Director of Climate Change and Meteorological Services, Jolamu Nkhokwe, said Karonga District will continue receiving heavy rains, which may probably lead to more floods up to next month.

And T/A Kalonga, in whose jurisdiction Baka Camp is, suggested that the government should consider constructing dykes to prevent water run-off and called for more assistance to support the survivors in the camps.

He said a dyke was constructed on the eastern edge of the lakeshore district and resulted into significant reductions in floods along that stretch.

Commissioner for Disasters who is also Secretary in the Ministry of Disaster Management Affairs, Wilson Moleni, said the construction of dykes is a government plan that will be prioritised in the next national budget.

He also disclosed that the ministry is requesting an additional K1.8 billion to supplement its current budget so that it can ably support people that have been affected by natural disasters such as floods.

Moleni said initially, the department received K1.2 billion out of the requested K3 billion from the national budget.

“We also engaged our development partners. Our budget will be K3 billion in total with what we have already consumed, that is, if we get the remaining K1.8 billion. I am sure we will be able to deal with the challenges,” Moleni said.

Despite Malawi Red Cross Society, Salvation Army and Health Clusters assisting floods survivors in Karonga, Dodma report still shows gaps which need urgent interventions.

Challenges that people affected floods are facing in Karonga are similar to those of over 40,000 people that have been affected by natural disasters countrywide.

Similar challenges have been there since 2015 when the country started experiencing serious natural disasters.

However, one can tell that less is being done to prepare for such disasters with thousands of victims failing to access the required support.

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