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From sadness to smiles

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Estere Muzunga, now in her fifties, may not be able to get over the sense of emptiness left by devastating floods that swept away her maize crop and livestock in January this year. But, at least, she has been able to get over the emptiness in her stomach.

The floods left the government scratching for help, after it announced in Parliament that it needed an additional K1 billion to effectively respond to the crisis.

Other humanitarian organisations such as the World Food Programme also went around with a begging bowl, after announcing that it needed a whopping USD 10.8 million (approximately K5 billion) to scale-up the floods response and satisfy the needs of 616, 00 people it described as “food insecure flood victims”.

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The charity also needed an additional USD 2.1 million (about K1 billion) to continue food assistance to 438,000 food insecure people under the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) response.

Hidden in the statistics of the 16, 000 or 438, 000 people that needed immediate assistance was Muzunga, from Namoyo Village, Traditional Authority Nthiramanja, in Mulanje.

To her, the disaster was more personal than national.

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“When the floods swept away my livestock—namely, chickens, goats— maize bags and my house, I felt empty inside,” says Muzunga, adding:

“But the worst part was being forced to relocate to a primary school because there was nothing left of my house. I spent months at Muloza Primary School under conditions that were strange to me. It will take me some time to forget the night of January 16.”

Pandora ’s Box

The January of 2015 is one of the most disturbing to people like Muzunga and the country because, according to MVAC, 616,000 people were food insecure in 17 districts.

By March, 162,000 people, including the Mulanje resident, were in temporary shelter sites in six flood-affected districts that included Mulanje, according to the Department of Disaster Management Affairs Displacement Tracking Mechanism.

The department added that the flood victims needed 9,376 metric tonnes of maize and 14,000 metric tonnes of other food items in a bid to bail the likes of Muzunga out of the situation.

The news came after the Civil Society Agriculture Network (Cisanet) indicated in a report that the 2015 harvest would be between 30 and 40 percent lower than that of

the 2014/2015 agricultural season.

“With these dual crises (floods and drought), a large number of Malawians will likely face hunger during the upcoming lean season,” Cisanet reports.

In the meantime, President Peter Mutharika appointed Finance, Economic Planning and Development Minister, Goodall Gondwe, as Chairperson of an Inter-ministerial Committee on Hunger Situation in Malawi with immediate effect.

The Committee, according to Chief Secretary to Government George Mkondiwa, has been tasked to strategise on the looming hunger and propose strategies and ways on how the country should respond to the impending hunger. Other members of the committee include Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Minister, Allan Chiyemebekeza, and Industry and Trade Minister Joseph Mwanamvekha.

Stitch in time

However, things have changed for the better for the likes of Muzunga, following the intervention of organisations such as Oxfam.

Oxfam programme officer, Hyton Lefu, says the organisation has been targeting flood survivors whose crops, livestock and houses were demolished due to the heavy rains.

“Mulanje is one of the districts greatly affected by the floods, which displaced 12, 500 households and washed away 40, 000 thousand acres of land.

“Our first activity was to assist the flood survivors with food items, shelter and construction materials. We also rolled out a campaign aimed at improving sanitary and hygiene standards. So far, we have reached out to 2, 000 households,” says Lefu.

In addition, the organisation also gave out cash transfers of K20, 000 per household among those whose houses were damaged. So far, 598 households have reaped from the initiative.

Oxfam country director, John Makina, concurs with Lefu.

He says the organisation has also promoted indigenous business persons who were engaged to supply livestock to the affected families.

“The initiative is on-going and one of the benefits is that beneficiaries [buyers] will have the opportunity to negotiate the price since they are also dealing with local suppliers. Moreover, this is one way of ensuring that the beneficiaries have a source of income in the long run,” says Makina.

But Makina says there is need to develop long-term mechanisms to build resilience to changes in climatic conditions.

“From the look of things, climate change is here to stay. Therefore, there is need to come up with mitigating strategies. The problem with climate change is that it is vulnerable households that bear its brunt. So, if we help them now, we will be able to escape the calamities that come with it,” he said.

Apart from wrecking havoc, the heavy rains also damaged water supply pipes at Likhubula which distribute water to various communities in Mulanje, Thyolo and Phalombe. About 11 water intakes were damaged and Oxfam came in and constructed the water ways and now people have started having safe water. This project is benefiting 150 000 people who had difficulties to access water due to the damage.

From sadness to smiles

January Chinyama, from Chiwanda Village in the district is also a beneficiary of another project by Oxfam called irrigation farming.

Chinyama, who is also the chairperson for Chiwanda Cluster, says the intervention of the public and private sector has uplifted the veil of sadness on the flood survivors.

“We had no resources for us to engage in irrigation farming since our crops were washed away but Oxfam gave us the farming materials,” he says, adding that the group would not be tempted by the urge to trade off the crops for that would put them at risk of facing hunger.

“We will be careful not to sell the harvest. After all, we know what it means to be hungry and depend on others to meet daily needs,” says Chinyama.

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