Lessons from Cyclone Freddy
By Elijah Banda:
Malawi is still reeling from the impacts of the devastation triggered by Tropical Storm Freddy which recently lashed the Southern Region.
Before the storm arrived in Malawi, the country had been experiencing its worst cholera outbreak in history. Freddy’s effects amplified fears among the public that it would worsen.
The cyclone has been described by the World Meteorological Organisation as the deadliest and longest-lasting in the southern hemisphere.
Following Tropical Cyclone Freddy’s second landfall in Mozambique, on March 11, the weather system moved over land as a tropical depression, bringing torrential rainfall with strong winds to southern Malawi as the hardest hit.
The rains caused flash floods in the region, with Blantyre, Phalombe, Mulanje, Chikwawa, Zomba, Thyolo, and Nsanje being among the worst hit.
The floods washed away homes and people and destroyed public infrastructure.
The entire nation experienced a power outage after the Electricity Generation Company of Malawi shut down its power stations to avoid damage to the machines.
Over a month’s worth of rain was dumped in just a day, totaling to six months of precipitation in six days of the cyclone.
Hundreds have been killed by the storm with several others missing. Hundreds of thousands of others have been displaced by the disaster.
While much attention has been on Blantyre— which has arguably been the worst hit—other locations outside the city have also felt the devastation.
In Chiradzulu, a small village was completely swept away by a landslide that fell from Chambe Peak. Dozens died in trail of the landslide.
The storm struck just as farmers were about to harvest the little that they had made in their farms. There is a huge threat of food insecurity among the affected households.
Generally, the cyclone exposed serious gaps in out preparedness. It told us how vulnerable we can be in the face of disasters especially because we do not learn lessons from previous ones.
On the other hand, the support from our partners has been overwhelming; it has significantly lessened the burden, but what is important is how we will proceed from the wreckage.
For a long time, our vision to deal with natural disasters has been blurred. We tend to invest our capacity interventions more in short-term all eviation impacts while long-term goals fall away.
As a country, we should not forget that we have in place the Malawi 2063 Vision to be achieved. And this demands a sustainable implementation strategy.
Therefore, it is the government’s responsibility to establish dedicated, diverse and multi-stakeholder consortia of public agencies and non-State actors to pro-actively and consistently fortify vulnerable communities through effective information and monitoring systems, resource capacitation and education programmes.
This should include community-based meteorological information centres that are manned by trained local people and are supported by a participatory process to sensitise communities to impending disasters.
Besides, there must be collaboration with development agencies to establish ‘second home safe zones’ for families living in areas prone to disasters and build their migratory capacity through training, resourcing, education and networking.
The government should also liaise with expert organisations to assist with technical housing designs for climate disaster-prone areas.