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Picking up life’s pieces after Cyclone Idai

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By Taonga Sabola:

JOSHUA—It was a terrible sight

Forty-year-old Divason Joshua of Group Village Head Chimombo, Traditional Authority Jenala, in Phalombe District, sheds a tear when asked about the events of March 7 2019.

He considers himself lucky to be still alive.

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Up to now, Joshua does not know how he survived.

“It was just by the grace of God,” says the father of five.

Six days of continuous rains had weakened the walls of his house. Deep into the night, the wall of his bedroom collapsed, and bricks missed him by a whisker.

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“I would have been dead by now. I think God gave me a second chance. Immediately after the incident, I woke my wife up and we sought refuge in the living room,” he says.

Before dawn, another wall fell and all family members gathered in the living room, praying that the remainder of the building could withstand the rains.

“Lucky enough, the other parts of the house survived the night. It was only in the morning that we realised that houses of our neighbours had collapsed as well. It was a terrible sight. The village was like a war zone,” Joshua says.

The rains that fell in most districts of Southern Malawi early March had resulted in many rivers flooding.

“Our field is on the banks of Phalombe River. When I went to the field to establish the extent of the damage caused by the floods, I was shocked. All the crops had been washed away.

“I had never seen destruction of such magnitude in my life. As if that was not enough, crops at Mathithi Scheme, where I am a member, were also destroyed by the floods,” he narrates.

Since then, Joshua and his family have been surviving on pockets of donations from well-wishers as well as the government.

He says life has been tough the past two months as he is not used to relying on other people for survival.

“I work hard to fend for my family but this disaster has turned me into a beggar,” Joshua laments.

Twenty-six-year-old Emily Chibwana of Msongolo Village at Chingale in Zomba has a similar-sounding story.

The single mother of six says she will live to remember events of the evening of March 6 which made her destitute.

“My house fell in the middle of the night. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. We rushed to the village head who offered the house we are living in,” Chibwana says.

Intense Tropical Cyclone Idai is one of the tropical cyclones on record to affect Africa and the Southern Hemisphere.

The long-lived storm caused catastrophic damage in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, leaving hundreds dead and thousand displaced.

In Malawi, at least 60 people are believed to have died from the effects of Idai.

The deadly cyclone also saw the International Monetary Fund (IMF) cutting Malawi’s Gross Domestic Product growth projection for 2019 to four percent from an earlier projection of five percent.

According to Phalombe District Agriculture Development Officer, David Ali, about 22,484 families were affected by Tropical Cyclone Idai in the district.

Ali says about 17,000 hectares of cross were washed away floods in Phalombe.

Two months after the disaster, survivors in Phalombe, Zomba and other affected districts are picking up the pieces of their broken lives and starting to live normal lives.

Critical among their needs are shelter and food.

Realising that the floods survivors would not survive on food distributions up to the next harvest, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is closely working with the Government of Malawi through the National Agriculture Cluster Platform to support affected households to resume agriculture production through supporting farm activities.

FAO is distributing farm inputs such as seed, fertiliser, vegetable materials and irrigation equipment such as treadle pumps and watering cans, targeting households that have access to residual moisture and small irrigation farms.

“This support aims to ensure that the affected households are able to regain their productive capacity in order to avert food insecurity that may arise as a result of the flood disaster caused by Cyclone Idai.

“This assistance targets 14,500 households in six districts of Phalombe, Nsanje, Chikwawa, Blantyre, Neno and Zomba,” says FAO Programme Officer and Nutrition Research Management Pillar Coordinator, Luis Fernando Amaya Ortiz.

He adds that FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture are interested in not only providing support through inputs, but also seeking synergies with partners to ensure that farmers that are receiving emergency support receive technical guidance in anticipation of future nature-related shocks.

“So far, this intervention has received around $0.8 million financial assistance from the Belgian Government and the European Union. Further contributions are being sought to facilitate recovery activities related with livelihood production and diversification of agriculture livelihoods in the affected areas,” Ortiz says.

To ensure success of the winter cropping, government and FAO have over the years encouraged the Farmer Field School (FFS) initiative through which rural communities experiment on the suitability of crops and best agricultural practices.

CONFIDENT—Madinga

Zomba District Extension Methodologies Officer, Christina Madinga, is confident that the knowledge the farmers acquire during the FFS will contribute to the success of this year’s winter cropping.

“In the FFS, farmers are able to, among otherthings, experiment on the suitability of varieties to their climatic conditions as well as practising conservation agriculture,” Madinga says.

So at the time the world appeared to be crumbling in front of floods survivors such as Joshua and Chibwana, suddenly hope flickered.

As they pick up their hoes to till their fields, they are positive that, in the next three months, they will be able to sing a different song altogether, a song of joy.

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