Looking for desaster resilience? Try a Ngome house


He constructed the house a good 12 years ago yet he could not realise its full potential.

In fact he has born four children with his wife Cecilia in the dwelling unit but never thought of the additional roles the house could play.

He never anticipated the house would still be standing by now with other village dwellers described him as despicably old fashioned considering the craftsmanship on the dwelling unit.


His choice to construct a Ngome traditional house earned him very little popularity at his place of marriage, Nanchopwa village Traditional Authority (T/A) in Phalombe considering chic houses already erected in the village.

To him in 2003, it was fashion manifesting from his native home village, Kasonya in T/A Jenala’s area in the same district where at that time Ngome houses were stylishly manifest.

“There was no particular reason for constructing this type of a house,” he says, adding “I never know that their houses would stand the test of time. These houses are common in my home village so when I come here, I thought of putting up one.”


However, Goodson Mantchombe who can hardly tell when he was born could neither deduce why the house has survived that long in a village regularly ravaged by heavy windy rains that unlike in other parts of Phalombe lead to severe flooding calumniating into loss of life and property including dwelling units.

The units are ironically constructed without taking into account the fact that the district is disaster prone.

His 32 year old wife Cecilia, confesses they never anticipated it’s kosher among other village dwellers.

“We have seen houses of different fashionable types come and go,” she bragged surrounded by kids from her village, “Ours has another 10, 15 years before we can start plans of putting up another.”

Unlike her husband who kept struggling with responses to this reporter’s inquiry, she, to a certain extent knows why there are today numerous Ngome type house in her village

“There is always too much water in this village that comes due to the heavy windy rains we get at times. So constructing Ngome type of house proves ideal considering the strength of its foundation, walls and the protective roofing,” she explains.

Un like the Mantchombes who survived the January 2015 disaster arguably the worst in 500 years, a good number of those affected, are still reeling in further risk bearing in mind the fact that they relocated back to the affected areas and reconstructed the dwelling units without guidance on how to reduce risk.

Though the Malawi 2015 Floods Post Disaster Needs Assessment Report estimates that approximately 82 percent of the houses completely destroyed in the disaster were traditional houses constructed mainly in rural areas with limited land use planning and little compliance with safer construction house design standards, all most all the Ngome houses in the district survived the water scourge

It estimates the district’s total loss on housing at K 7,229 millions with total damage at K 7,098 million.

The total lose for a district that has despicably seen a decade go with the district’s name stack on the Malawi Venerability Assessment Committee’s list of venerable districts that are also disaster prone reflect glaring shortcomings in Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR).

On National scale, Natural disasters, particularly drought and floods have become endemic to Malawi with the World Bank indicating that floods affect about 26 000 people annually draining the country off 1.7 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

A joint situation reports by the UN Resident Coordinator (UNRCO) and Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA) indicates 230 000 people were displaced by the floods in January this year.

Phalombe District Commoner Paul Kalilombe could not mince words that without proper reconstruction guidelines post disaster relocation will keep haunting victims.

“I must say that the January victims went back to their area bearing the same risk. If reconstruction is not properly guided then I am afraid as a country we will keep reeling in disasters,” expressed Kalilombe.

Even at national level issues of housing in the post disaster era in relation to building climate resilient human settlements are not treated as cross cutting to support community -based approaches to adaptation that has the potential to reduce social vulnerability to climate change consequences

At national scale, 356,643 housing units were completely destroyed during the January disaster in the affected districts due to little compliance with safer construction house design standards.

This explains how risky the country is trading on matters of building people’s resilience through tailor made architectural designs to guide how house should be constructed in the post disaster era that would stand against the heavy windy rains that affect some parts of the district.

An assessment in the district soon after January disaster has shown that dwelling units, a basic requirement for human life are at the centre of people’s vulnerability considering places where they are constructed, the materials used and its design.

In the assessment, Safer Earth Building for Floods and Rains, conducted by Catholic Development Commission in Malawi (Cadecom) a developmental arm of Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) whose main goal was to find why some houses succumbed to the waters despite the albescence of flash waters in areas of erection.

It has unraveled weakness on the un burnt bricks that are largely used in the district due to the soil used, poor choice of place of reconstruction and roofing.

It has also pointed out place of construction as one factor that leads to most houses falling and how walls are exposed direct windy rains that calumniate into soaked bricks over time hence week to hold for a longer time.

Mantchombe’s wife Cecilia indicates that unlike other traditional houses, Ngome dwelling units relish on solid foundation and that its walls are never exposed to direct rains drops due to the over lapping roof that covers the sides of the house.

“We always make sure that the roof is properly thatched at all times so that the walls are ever away from the windy rains that are common in this area. We also make sure that we smear the walls with enough additional mud so that they are thick enough,” she says observing that today the village has more ngome houses compared to what was there before people released durability of the houses.

Though the PDNA report tackles the issue of rebuilding under the Build Back Better and Smarter section, the document does not outline explicitly how the people’s dwelling units should be constructed to with stand hash weather and future disaster occurrences.

Even the National Disaster Risk Management Policy has missed its vision is to have a more resilient nation to disasters in this regard as it makes no mention of how this can be done.

While implying the country has no multi-hazard resistant housing standard for post disaster reconstruction DoDMA Communications Officer Jeremiah Mphande indicates there are a number of community based mitigation programes being implemented against the impact of flooding.

Under the Small Grants Scheme Community Based Disaster Risk Reduction project which is funded by UNDP, he says community initiated and driven flood control projects are being funded.

“Projects implemented include construction of dyke, river retraining, and construction of flood water diversion canal. So far Karonga, Phalombe and Salima have been targeted under this scheme. There are plans to roll out to other disaster prone districts,” indicates Mphande.

Ironically, this is happening at a time when research findings on suitable architectural designs suitable for disaster prone areas by scholars and educationists in the country’s tertiary institutions continue to gather dusts on shelves.

Head of Civil Engenearing department at University of Malawi’s Poly Technic Ashely Kanyoza could not hide the fact that as a country Malawi is losing out by ignoring the studies done in tertiary institutions.

“The challenge has been that the institutions are not mostly engaged when there is such a need. Students do research at the end of their studies in institutions like the Poly and members of staff come up with papers for their masters but all these end up in files and that is it,” indicates Kanyoza.

He explicitly sights the Poly technique as one of the institutions that has studies and papers that can help in building people’s resilience to climate change effects by coming up with tailor made architectural designs that can be used in the reconstruction process.

Kanyoza however says the schallenge has been determination.

“The challenge has been how they can reach the end user like in the rural areas where the reconstruction process is underway,” says Kanyoza.

Andrew Thawe, former president of Malawi Institution of Engineers (MIE) urges for disaster risk conforming standards that can reduce risk.

“It is unacceptable to lose lives in this age. Let’s use experts at all times and make sure reconstruction work conform to standers hence the need for awareness,” says Thawe.

As a matter of intervention, soon after the January disaster described as the worst in 500 years by country vice president, Cadecom embarked on a resilience project to build Ngome houses for close to 400 victims of the disaster.

Peter Pangani, Cadecom Secretary for Blantyre Archdiocese says abandoning traditional means of building will not help matters as the country aims at building the victim’s resilience to the effects of climate change.

“The thing is that some of the traditional houses fall short of meeting of the required standards. They mostly do not provide total cover the walls for protection from rain are also constructed in places that are prone to disaster. People need to go back to the drawing board on matters of reconstruction,” says Pangani.

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