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Mitigating hazards in disaster-prone areas

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By Praise Padambo:

Every time he passes by Milole River, memories of the fateful day when raging waters swept away his three-acre maize field become fresh. Not a single plant was left standing in the field that had previously provided enough food for his family of nine.

“It was heart-breaking to see my entire field washed away by the floods,” says Emmanuel Fole from Penimulungu Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Mlolo in Nsanje District.

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His village on the eastern banks of the Shire River had been moderately hit by floods before. But then the waters swelling out of the river had barely reached Fole’s land.

It was tropical Cyclone Idai which impacted Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe that had pushed Milole River over its banks and over Fole’s fields, leaving his family with no harvest.

“I felt hopeless, until Concern Worldwide Malawi came to my rescue,” Fole says.

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The humanitarian organisation worked to meet the needs of households affected by the cyclone.

“Concern Worldwide provided my household and several others with monthly cash transfers of 25,200 for three months. They also gave us farm inputs and 4 female goats as well as I boer goat to be shared by 10 households so we could restore what was swept away in the floods,” Fole says.

He and others were also equipped with information to help them recover and prepare for future potential disasters.

Humanitarian Manager of Concern Worldwide Linda Mwale, hopes victims of natural disasters such as Cyclone Idai – that the humanitarian organisation targets, have the necessary resources to ward off the impacts of these shocks.

“We have also equipped these beneficiaries with information on risk reduction and preparedness, and worked to strengthen community based early warning systems, so that they should not fall victim of the same circumstances again,” Mwale says.

Malawi is highly vulnerable to impacts of extreme weather conditions and with much need for systems and preparation to reduce the potential impacts of these threats.

Thus, the month of October, when Malawi joins the rest of the world to commemorate the International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction (IDDR), provides an opportune time to reflect on how communities are reducing exposure to catastrophes.

In Malawi, this year’s IDDR theme is ‘Disaster Risk Reduction Strategies for Resilience Building’.

It purposefully sends a message that disaster risk reduction legislation and strategies need to focus on managing the problems through preparedness and response, and also support comprehensive measures for reducing the risk.

“As we commemorate IDDR, we are also reflecting on what we have done under our ‘Promoting sustainable partnerships for empowered resilience [Prosper]’, consortium.

“We are supporting communities to conduct local planning, strengthen response plans and structures and disseminating messages on how to reduce the risk of disasters,” says Prosper Consortium Director Chris Connelly.

The UK Aid funded multi-stakeholder programme, which is being implemented by Concern Worldwide, is targeting 950,000 vulnerable people in Balaka, Chikwawa, Mangochi and Phalombe districts.

Among others, the aim of the programme is to support the government of Malawi to reduce extreme poverty and end the recurrent cycle of crises and humanitarian assistance.

“There are of course challenges which have arisen in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. In response to this, Prosper partners have utilised the Goal Community Led Action planning tool to support neighbourhoods to reflect on the prevention and response actions that can be planned, and mobilise communities around these plans.

If we experience flooding or other disasters this would obviously compound the burden on already vulnerable communities,” Connelly says.

He adds that the project focusing on ensuring communities, especially those prone to weather-related shocks, are better prepared to face hazards.

“Under the umbrella of the Department of Disaster Management Affairs the programme has worked to support Village Civil Protection Committees activities and resources for community based early warning systems and disaster response plans,” Connelly says.

In T/A Nkhumba, Phalombe, Concern Worldwide, under the Prosper Programme, has supported Village Civil Protection Committees (VCPCs) through which locals have been trained on reducing the risk of disasters. The project has also distributed cell phones to selected VCPC members in flood prone areas for dissemination of Early Warning Messages to vulnerable communities, working with the department of Climate Change and Meteorological services (DCCMS) the project has trained VCPC representatives in Weather advisories and interpretation of Weather information, this will enable communities to receive weather information and be able to plan better for shocks.

“For instance, we have been trained to plant trees and grass in our crop fields and other flood-prone areas. Further, we have been trained on installing river gauges which help us to measure the threat of a flood if it is coming.’’

“This allows us to send messages to downstream communities so that they move to safer grounds. We have been provided with megaphones which we use to send warning messages in cases of flood threats,” says Symon Jonathan, chairperson of one of the VCPCs in T/A Nkhumba.

He, just like Fole, believes that the potential of disasters striking again remains huge, and communities at risk should be supported to plan and prepare.

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