Floods are becoming an annual occurrence in Malawi, with some parts of the country, especially in the Shire Valley, falling victim to the same every now and then. However, people from hard-to-reach areas are suffering a double blow, as they remain unreachable weeks after disaster strikes, a situation blamed on policymakers, who have been ‘sitting’ on the answer for over a decade. JARSON MALOWA writes:
Ruth, 60, a mother of six who is one of the flood victims camping at Tiwasamale Camp, Senior Chief Mulilima in Chikwawa District, lost everything— ranging from two goats, four bags of maize, two pales of beans, kitchen utensils, clothes to beddings— to Tropical Storm Ana-induced floods which hit some parts of the country in late January this year.
Still, she considers herself “lucky”.
“I consider myself lucky because, for the first time in 15 years, I found myself on the reachable side of the district. My village is located far away from the busiest feeder road, which means, when disasters strike, it become difficult to reach us. I remember that, when we were also affected by floods in 2005, it took Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) officials three weeks to reach us.
“As I am speaking, people in my village have still not been reached with relief items. I consider myself lucky to be here, at Tiwasamale floods survivors’ camp, because I was visiting two relatives the day floods started affecting people. That is how I found myself here. At least there are some relief items trickling in, unlike in some parts of the district, including my village, where people are yet to be reached with relief items,” she says, a plastic plate in hand, as she prepares to get her share of porridge from fellow campers.
Apart from the need for food, people who are still ‘locked’ up in areas where floods damaged roads— both main and feeder ones— may be in trouble should another disaster, in the form of diseases, hit.
According to Chikwawa Health Promotion Officer Settie Piriminta, flood survivors face the risk of diseases such as cholera and malaria.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there were an estimated 241 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2020. The estimated number of malaria deaths stood at 627, 000 in the year.
The United Nations agency indicates that African countries carry a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden. In 2020, the region was home to 95 percent of malaria cases and 96 percent of malaria deaths.
In terms of cholera, it remains one of the dangerous diseases in Malawi in particular and Africa in general.
WHO describes cholera as an acute diarrhoeal disease that can kill within hours if left untreated, with researchers estimating that, annually, there are 1.3 to 4.0 million cases of cholera, and 21,000 to 143,000 deaths worldwide are attributed to cholera.
“Most of those infected will have no or mild symptoms and can be successfully treated with oral rehydration solution. Severe cases will need rapid treatment with intravenous fluids and antibiotics. Provision of safe water and sanitation is critical to prevent and control the transmission of cholera and other waterborne diseases,” it says.
A global strategy on cholera control, Ending Cholera: A Global Roadmap to 2030, with a target to reduce cholera deaths by 90 percent, was launched in 2017, but situations such as floods serve as a challenge to implementation of the strategy.
No wonder, Piriminta urges stakeholders to offer more support to flood survivors.
However, flood survivors that are crying foul over the time it takes between the day of disaster and the day relief items reach a place are not limited to Chikwawa District.
In Nsanje District, relief items are reaching those that are close to roads more than those who are in areas that are still impassable.
For instance, at least 2,400 flood survivors have received relief items in areas where camps for survivors are closer to roads than those in areas reachable by boat.
Fifty-seven-year-old Simeon Nkhabe claimed that he was yet to receive any sort of help despite losing everything to floods.
“I am still at home in Traditional Authority (T/A) Nyachikadza, where, due to floods, most areas are not reachable by boat.
“As such, large quantities of relief items cannot reach us until the waters subside and roads are rehabilitated. We need relief items but, although there are well-wishers out there, we know they cannot reach us,” he said.
So far, flood survivors in T/A Malemia’s area, especially those at Nsanje Prison Ground, have received one kind of support or another.
Some people lost everything, including food and clothes, to the floods, according to Nsanje District Commissioner (DC) Medson Matchaya.
In Zomba District, where a disaster assessment report indicates that 54,512 people were affected by Tropical Storm Ana, some people are yet to get relief support.
“I stay close to Lake Chilwa and lost my bags of maize after water washed them away. However, I am only counting on my relatives, who have been sending items from Zomba City and Blantyre City,” said Esnart Sauzande Lumbe.
However, storm survivors who have found a home at Likangala camp in the district have received relief items, including plastic buckets, flour and soap
Zomba DC Smart Gwedemula understands that some survivors are in need of relief items.
“Most of the survivors had their houses completely damaged and that means, for them to relocate to their respective houses, we should provide them with building materials,” Gwedemula said.
Lawmaker for Zomba Likangala Constituency Abigail Sherrif Bongwe said timely assistance to those affected by natural calamity was more than welcome.
Recently, Malawi Red Cross Society (MRCS) Communication Manager Felix Washoni indicated that they were struggling to reach some natural disaster survivors due to impassability of the roads after floods washed away some segments.
This means the ability of emergency workers to reach out to survivors depends on many factors, including state of roads.
The society has, with funds from the European Union (EU), been supporting people that have been negatively affected by floods across the country.
MRCS, which received funds from EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, has been disbursing cash to households that have been affected by natural disasters.
The funds are meant to help affected houses reconstruct houses.
“We have been assessing affected households in districts where we are implementing this facility. Amounts being issued range from K25,000 to K65,000 depending on the extent of damage to a house,” he said.
One of the districts that have benefitted from the initiative in Mangochi, where District Disaster Officer Francis Kadzokoya indicates that about 873 households had been affected by disasters this wet season alone.
“In fact, most of the people need food and building materials which can help them reconstruct structures,” he said.
According to Commissioner for Disasters Charles Kalemba, the department is doing everything possible to reach out to flood survivors and those affected by other calamities.
But, as they say, time is of the essence.