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Floods survivors long for comfort

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ELLEN—Life in camps is tough

Not much is being said about floods survivors who are still stuck in what were supposed to be provisional camps in the Shire Valley. But as ERIC— MSIKITI explores, these people are living like refugees in the evacuation sites that no longer attract the attention of well-wishers.

Six months of staying at a congested evacuation camp are fast taking their toll on 36-year-old Ellen Dan of Group Village Head Bester in Traditional Authority (TA) Lundu in Chikwawa.

No immediate help is in sight at the camp as government says it will not be able to move the survivors to higher and safer ground until September this year.

They often go hungry because they did not harvest anything as their crops got washed away by the raging waters and they could not return to replant because their fields were still disaster zones.

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They have lost a good half of a year in a place they had initially thought they would inhabit provisionally.

Dan has been living at Namicheni Camp together with her husband and two children since January when floods induced by Tropical Storm Ana completely destroyed their house and crops in the field.

Together with 886 other survivors including women and children, they are still failing to return home long after the disasters largely because they are too poor to rebuild their houses.

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Dan and her colleagues at the camp speak of long night battles with mosquitoes, hunger, lack of clean water and other sanitary facilities as well as loss of dignity.

They say life itself seems to be a very temporary affair.

“Every morning, we are faced with the question of where to find food, water and other basic necessities for our families, especially children. We also miss the privacy our houses used to provide before the floods,” Dan says.

The last time the camp received food was in February, when the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) provided food items to the people.

That time, the camp was home to 1,446 flood survivors, some of whom have returned to their houses which were partly damaged by the floods.

“Even that time, the maize the officials [Dodma] brought was not enough because there were just too many of us who needed the food,” Dan recalls.

The camp’s chairperson Watson Solobala concurs with Dan, saying most people still living in the temporary structures are suffering and in dire need of food assistance.

“It is most especially the elderly and those with disabilities who are resorting to begging or, in other instances, receive handouts from relations for their daily bread,” Solobala says.

Dan adds that life at the camp means married men and women are not staying together as they should, a development that is raising fears of risky behaviour among the survivors.

“For those of us who are married, life is tougher. Since we rarely come into intimate contact with our husbands, we fear they could be seeking solace elsewhere. They may end up contracting sexually transmitted infections,” she says forlornly.

Having lost six months of this year because he was at a camp where he was not as productive to be, 72-year-old Master Simenti—a man with mobility challenges— is now back home at Matsukambiya Village, TA Ngabu in Chikwawa. as he would have loved

Like the other 381 households that escaped the January floods, Simenti spent six months of his life at the camp literally doing nothing productive.

But at least, he is back home though living in a makeshift house.

However, the challenges that Simenti faces at home makes it easy for him to remember the little goodies that life at the camp provided.

“Camp life was tough, but from donations from different organisations, we were able to access food and other basic necessities. Now, we have returned home to a find that the fields were washed away and we cannot grow crops. We don’t have food to eat,” Simenti complains.

As an elderly person with disability, Simenti is still facing a lot of challenges.

Matsukambiya Village itself remains at high risk of being hit by floods again during the next rainy season.

The people there have been asking the government to expedite the process of finding them land so that they can relocate to higher and safer ground.

“We are still calling on the government to help us relocate because we are living in fear that the same tragedy that befell us back in January could repeat itself this year. We are not safe,” a visibly worried Simenti says.

Dan and Simenti are among thousands of people still living in camps and in flood prone areas in Chikwawa alone.

While those in camps like Dan want to return home, those back where they escaped the raging waters like Simenti says they are ready and waiting to move to safer ground.

But the wait for the promised land might only end beginning September this year if information from Chikwawa District Council is anything to go by.

The council places the number of active evacuation centres in the district at four, providing temporary shelter to 3,146 families out of the 84,106 households which were affected by the floods.

Chikwawa District Council Chief Administration Officer Leonard Mchombo said processes that will see the relocation of the people still in the camps and those in flood prone areas to safer zones are still underway.

According to Mchombo, the relocation will happen before the rainy season starts so that the survivors do not get hit by the floods again.

“The process of assessing and procuring land has already started so that by September this year, the actual relocation will have started,” Mchombo said.

He also confirmed that food assistance has been a challenge in camps such as Namicheni but attributed the problem to poor road network.

“Most of the camps are located in hard-to-reach areas and if you take into account the damage that the floods caused to the roads, you will see that indeed it is a challenge for vehicles to reach some of the camps with relief food items,” Mchombo said.

The 2021-2022 rainy season has been described as one of the deadliest in recent history after thousands of people in districts of Mulanje, Chikwawa, Machinga, Mangochi, Phalombe, Mulanje, Chikwawa and Nsanje, among others, were driven out of their homes by the two tropical storms, Ana and Gombe.

In Chikwawa and Nsanje, close to 500,000 people were reportedly affected by the disasters with over 128,461 pushed to 61 camps.

At least 70 people died in the floods while 18 others were reported missing.

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