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Flood survivors’ home of plenty

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ALLAN—Chikwawa is prone to floods

When raging waters swept across swathes of villages westward of Shire River in Chikwawa, in January this year, Margret Beni’s family lost much of their material possessions but refused to be brought to their knees.

Like they always do, the disaster in Kalima Village, Traditional Authority (TA) Maseya, came without warning.

Within minutes, the family’s house, constructed a few yards from the edge of a bare football pitch, was brought down and flattened by the uncontrolled waters that had broken through the banks of an often calm giant watercourse.

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“Everything happened so fast that we did not manage to save much of what was in the house: food, clothes, kitchenware and furniture,” Beni explains, sitting on a reed mat in front of the family’s new home.

She recalls that in the midst of the chaos, as she and her husband attempted to salvage what they could from the wreckage, they briefly talked about how their savings could help in that moment of crisis.

They immediately engaged young people in search of spontaneous assignments common in disasters.

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“We used some money that we had saved to pay boys who rescued our livestock such as goats and pigs. They could not help us without paying them something,” Beni says.

She admits that without funds from a village savings and loans (VSL) group which she joined after being incorporated into a ‘Food Assistance for Assets’ (FFA) initiative championed by the World Food Programme (WFP), her family would have been stuck in an evacuation camp to this day.

About half a kilometre from where they have constructed a new house, others who were not prepared enough for the floods remain in provisional structures which appear to have become their permanent homes.

“But, we briefly stayed in the temporary structures before moving into our new house. Our rebuilding did not take long because money was available,” Beni boasts.

Members of the FFA initiative, which she joined in 2017, build or maintain household and community-level assets to improve their livelihoods and strengthen their resilience to natural disasters.

Beni and other women and men participating in the scheme are encouraged to have backyard gardens from where they handily get vegetables, engage in reforestation activities and use stoves that consume less wood, among others.

They also receive a monthly incentive of K14,400 from which the mother-of-two has been saving K10,000 with the VSL for six years now.

“The first year, 2017, my savings hit K224,000. We used part of the money to buy goats and pigs. We also bought pieces of land on which we grow crops and where we intend to construct houses for rent,” Beni says.

Her husband Moses Peter also concedes that without his wife’s involvement in the FFA project, funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and implemented in five TAs in Chikwawa by World Vision, rebuilding their livelihoods after the floods would have been an extremely difficult venture.

He also recollects that while the family was also hit by floods in 2015, the damage caused by this year’s torrent would have been insurmountable.

“We are stronger and more resilient than before. We are a happy home,” Peter declares.

He constantly eggs his wife on so that she remains resolute in her participation in the FFA project which he describes as a saviour in troubled times.

“Well, it is something that I also owned. I have seen the benefits it has brought to my family. We used to be constantly stricken by hunger. That is no longer the case,” Peter states.

His family’s resilience in a location prone to floods, and even droughts, enthuses World Vision District Project Coordinator for Chikwawa, Mark Allan.

Allan says the skills that Beni and other participants in the project have acquired are for life.

“Chikwawa is prone to floods and it is important that people are able to withstand and recover from their harmful impacts.

“It is also refreshing to see that these people are bringing back the trees that they themselves cut. Areas which were bare are becoming green again,” he says.

In the five TAs in the Shire Valley district, the intervention has a total caseload of over 18,700 out of which some get the cash while others are simply equipped with skills which they can apply in resisting and rebuilding after disasters.

WFP Head of Blantyre Sub- Office, Elton Mgalamadzi, says the United Nations agency is now more interested in building resilience of communities at risk of hunger than just giving them food.

In the interventions, Mgalamadzi says, a wholesome approach is desirable, where nutrition, environmental conservation, education and income generation, among others, are tucked in one package.

“We specifically focus on areas prone to disasters so that we can help them recover from the effects of the hazards. They must be food secure,” he states.

Beni describes herself as a classic example of how such interventions, that allow locals to be at the centre, can create happy homes in places where despair was once so prevalent.

“We never imagined we could sleep in a decent house,” she says as she lines up more plans including purchasing a car to turn into a taxi and building more houses which teachers from a nearby school can rent.

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