Malawi is reeling from devastating effects of raging flash floods and stormy winds that have killed about 50 people and rendered 100,000 homeless. This is a national disaster as President Peter Mutharika aptly framed it.
It is such a pity to see families that are still hunting for their missing loved ones. They are hoping for the best. They cannot start mourning yet but they fear for the worst.
It is so unfortunate because this disaster is diverting our focus from challenges that we have been grappling with as a nation. Everything has virtually come to a standstill. Even Mutharika had to cancel his trip to Maputo to attend inaugural ceremony of his Mozambican counterpart Filipe Nyusi.
As expected, politicians have seized on the suffering of Malawians as an opportunity to show their oratory or even tour their jurisdictions in pure PR stunts.
But instead of engaging in a contest to see who wails louder, the right thing to do would be to take this misfortune to reflect on how we have transacted our business as a nation.
The rains that rattled the Southern Region incessantly for three days have not been as phenomenal to cause such destruction. If we had our act neatly put together, we would not have lost so many lives and so much property.
It might be uncustomary to offer some pieces of advice when people are mourning. But I guess that if the advice is aimed at preventing future deaths of the same kind, it should be welcome. Everything is terribly wrong with the way we build our cities. While I do not want to advocate for elitist cities, surely one does not expect to have huts made of adobe and thatched with cardboard box materials or grass, right in town.
The dense population in our slums are a danger to the safety of the residents. Imagine if fire breaks out in a hut in any of the slums, would our under resourced fire departments manage to control it? Why do we allow people to have shallow pit latrines when they drink from unprotected sources of water in these compact locations?
City Assemblies should enforce by-laws to stop people from abandoning their villages and pitch up huts in cities. Every structure that is built in the cities must be approved by the Assemblies to avoid such calamities. Yes, politicians need votes from the masses but they only need those votes from the living. The politicians should lead in educating the people of the dangers that we create for ourselves when we build carelessly and lawlessly like that.
The devastation to the road network is a clear manifestation of shoddy engineering. It beats an ordinary mind to imagine that our engineers build roads that have no drainage system. Every little showering leads to flooding on our roads. When showers persist, the water gets trapped and is forced to sink and permeate into the crust of the road, forcing its surface to disintegrate.
It is so unbelievable that the so called engineers in the public or civil service pass such type of workmanship for public use. Does the Malawi Institution of Engineers have any code of ethics or standards of practice for its members? How do other engineers feel when they drive on those roads which are clearly badly built?
A few months ago, this newspaper led with a story on a regional weather forecast that predicted prevalence of El-Nino conditions over the country. Senior government officials did not hide their dislike for the story when interviews were being done. Their argument was that the story would alarm the public.
When the story was published, government did not prepare Malawians for the devastating effects that the predicted El-Nino would bring. The Meteorological Department held a press briefing on September 25 where it issued a similar warning but there was no movement on the part of other government departments to prepare the people.
One would have expected Department of Disaster Preparedness and Management (DoDMA) to encourage people to move away from flood prone areas. DoDMa would have gone flat out to equip Malawians with survival tactics in the face of floods.
As a country we know which areas suffer most when any kind of natural disaster strikes. Half a century in self rule would have taught us to map out the country and have concrete plans for such areas.
Today, we are out with our begging bowl again trying to solicit anything from anyone who cares to stop by and listen. Why do we, as a nation, always believe that other nations and organisations have an obligation to help us out of our troubles, whose effects could have been mitigated?
Is it because relief work is so rewarding that relevant government institutions and agencies always look forward to the next disaster? Or are we taking the Christian hymn- the world is not my home, I am just passing by- so literally that we do not want to concentrate on developing this make-shift home called Malawi? Whatever the case, the impact of this disaster is man-made and could have been avoided.
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