“We are not yet there; so, we call on Malawians to take warnings issued by our department seriously”
By Leah Malimbasa:
Mary Mfulusa and her husband Laston have survived at least six fatal floods that have been sweeping through Matsukambiya Village in Traditional Authority (TA) Ngabu in Chikwawa the past few years.
The latest one raged on the night of January 24, 2022 and caught several households in the Shire Valley district unawares.
It flattened homes and washed away livestock and crops.
Mfulusa remembers her son screaming at full volume under the shade of darkness as he attempted to alert his parents about the looming danger.
“As soon as we opened the door of the house, water gushed in and almost submerged all of us. My husband suggested that I run to safer ground as he and my son salvaged our goats, bags of maize and cowpeas immersed in water,” she recounts.
Although Mfulusa fled to a new place which was safer, she was still concerned about the safety of her husband and her son whom she had left behind.
Fortunately, they also managed to escape before the house crumbled to the sodden ground.
“The time we moved to safety, the water was waist-high and we fled to a nearby church only to discover it was flooded, too. So, we went to a nearby primary school instead where we stayed for the night,” Laston recalls.
The couple is among several families that consider themselves lucky after surviving last year’s floods induced by Tropical Storm Ana that ravaged the Shire Valley twin districts of Chikwawa and Nsanje.
They do not want to take chances again this year.
“That is why we were excited when we heard that government has identified some piece of land for our village to relocate to before the rainy season,” Laston states.
Contrary to reports that floods survivors are reluctant to move to higher grounds, people from Matsukambiya Village took it upon themselves to initiate the relocation process.
Laston was among a group that first approached Group Village Head (GVH) Matsukambiya to discuss permanent solutions to the recurrent floods disaster.
Matsukambiya took the concerns to Member of Parliament for Chikwawa Central and TA Ngabu who later reported the matter to Chikwawa District Commissioner (DC) Ali Phiri.
The GVH admits that the torrents have tormented his people for many years and that they had nowhere to go where they could stay safer.
“It is unfortunate that many people think our motivation to remain in the floods-prone villages was relief aid. I can challenge you that even the aid we receive after floods is not worth risking our lives for,” the chief says.
He believes that the relocation of his people is timely after the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services (DCCMS) has already warned that Chikwawa and other upland areas will receive above-normal rainfall.
This implies the risk of floods in such areas is higher.
“The relocation will help safeguard people’s lives and property. In fact, this successful relocation will encourage other communities to follow suit,” the department’s director Lucy Mtilatila says.
She notes that remaining in the flood-prone areas deprives survivors of their livelihoods and they strive to stay on their feet each time they recover from the disasters.
Mtilatila then praises the amplified utilisation of climate information in Malawi by authorities and communities, but maintains more can be done.
“We are not yet there; so, we call on Malawians to take warnings issued by our department seriously. This helps to save lives,” she says.
The DCCMS boss observes that one of the factors that increase the risk of flooding is land degradation.
Chikwawa District Council Relief and Rehabilitation Officer, Humphrey Magalasi, is equally happy that the government, through the council and other partners, has successfully relocated the people from flood-prone zones.
“Disaster prevention is the way to go. Recurring disasters, which are mostly by-products of climate change, retard development.
“But these people are now safe and they will not be affected by floods anymore. This will spur both community and national development,” Magalasi says.
During a recent training workshop for Chikwawa extension workers on soil and water conservation measures and tree nursery establishment under the Climate Smart Enhanced Public Works Programme, DC Phiri admitted that it is difficult for communities perennially hit by disasters to meaningfully contribute to national development.
“We are working tirelessly to build resilience and mitigate climate change effects as well as to attain United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 10 and 13 that look at promoting socio-economic inclusion and mitigating the impacts of climate change,” Phiri said.—Mana