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Floods victims feel cheated on K8m items

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Hundreds of households that were affected by floods in Mulanje in January this year have been left in the cold after the relief items they were promised never reached them.

But while the people suspect the money for the items was stolen, officials from the donating organisation, South Africa-based Crescent of Hope, say the money was not misappropriated.

Instead, they indicate, it was diverted towards floods response in the Lower Shire.

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In January, Malawi suffered heavy floods, said to be the worst in a decade, which affected 15 districts, displaced over a million people and killed more than 150 people.

At the height of the disaster, Mulli Bwanali, a local volunteer for Crescent of Hope, helped source support from the organisation for some of the affected households in Nogwe and Mandanda villages in Traditional Authority Mkanda in Mulanje.

“Our colleagues in South Africa had heard about the floods and they asked us to do an assessment. We travelled to the villages, walked around to record the damages and we delivered the report to them.

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“In response, they said they had collected R200, 000 (about K8 million) which they said would be used to buy iron sheets and cement for people that had lost their houses to rebuild,” said Bwanali.

In February, the team led by Taahir Ismail arrived in the country to appreciate the extent of the problem and distribute the resources.

But when they travelled to Nogwe, heavy rains made it impossible for them to go further into the village.

The South African visitors were supposed to return home the following day, so they left the money in the hands of a Mr Abbaas Panjwani.

Panjwani had not been part of Bwanali’s assessment team.

“In fact, I do not know Mr Panjwani personally. I met him for the first time when we travelled to Nogwe with our colleagues from South Africa and I didn’t know how he got involved in this. I do not have his contact and since that time, we haven’t met and we haven’t spoken.

“But now since the people have not been assisted, they have been asking me what happened. But I do not have answers. They have been accusing me of having misused the money. I have made this known to our friends in South Africa,” he said.

In an email response from South Africa, Taahir Ismail told Malawi News that the money had not been stolen.

Rather, he suggested, it had been directed towards relief effort in Nsanje and Chikwawa.

He said at the time they engaged Bwanali for the assessment, they had also contacted the Asian Muslim Relief Aid (Amra) for a “better understanding of the nature and extent of the devastation.”

“On consultation with Amra, we realised that the flooding had had a major impact on the vast majority of the rural population. We found that Amra had a large contingent of volunteers who were well organised with regards to assessment, logistics, distribution and general administration,” Taahir said.

Amra had also notified them that although majority of the areas were affected, the greatest need at that point was the Lower Shire region,” he said.

“At this point we decided to team up with Amra, hence our contact with Mr Abbaas Panjwani and Mr Faisel Kassam, our facilitators from Amra….

“To the people of Nogwe…, we would like to sincerely apologise for the misunderstanding and once again reassure them that there has been no misappropriation of funds by Dr Bwanali, Mr Abbaas Panjwani or by anyone else,” he said.

But people in Nogwe and Mandanda feel hard done by.

Malawi News travelled to the two villages and found that seven months after the floods, some households were still accommodated in tents, failing to rebuild their houses.

Group Village Headman Nogwe said 226 houses collapsed in his area alone and a total of 925 houses fell in the surrounding villages.

“These people have been waiting for that support for months now. You cannot blame them because they were promised,” Group Village Headman Nogwe said.

Each family that lost a house to the floods was promised 21 iron sheets and cement.

“That has not happened. Now some of my subjects are accusing me of having misappropriated the money but I don’t know where the money went.

“People here are poor. They do not have resources to rebuild quickly. They still need the support. It’s not fair that they be beaten twice through being affected by the floods and then lied to. That’s not just,” he said.

His counterpart Group Village Headman Mandanda said over 30 houses collapsed in his area.

“People still ask me about the items and I keep telling them I don’t know what happened.

“The floods washed away crops in over 60 fields in this area. I normally harvest 25 bags of maize from my field. This year, I have managed only three bags. This is to say people are using the little money they get to buy food, so they still need the support they were promised for their houses,” said Mandanda.

The Malawi 2015 Floods Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) report, which government launched two weeks ago, says the housing sector suffered the highest damage calculated at K59.3 billion (US$ 136.4 million).

It puts the damage for the agriculture sector at the cost of K 23.7 billion (US$ 54.4 million) while losses in the transport and water and sanitation sector are pegged at K21.9 billion (US$ 50.4 million) and K 8.2 billion (US$18.9 million).

The report estimates the cost of reconstruction to be over K215 billion (US$494 million) but at the time of its launch, only US$80 million was available for the reconstruction drive.

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