Picking up pieces from devastating floods


By Memory Kutengule:

SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST—Life at a camp in Chikwawa

She nearly lost her two children, Jonathan and Benita on the night of March 7, 2019 when the wall of her two bed-roomed house crumbled due to devastating rains.

Patuma Elias, 24, from Group Village Phimbi in the area of Traditional Authority (TA) Nkaya in Balaka recalls what first appeared as light rains on March 6 but ended up destroying her house, built with unbaked bricks.


“As usual, that day (March 7, 2019), I prepared the evening meal and later after eating, my children and I, retired to bed.

“Barely three hours after we had gone to bed, had I heard a deafening sound only to wake up to a shock to see that the wall of the house had collapsed,” Elias recalls.

She explains that the incident happened whilst her husband was in Lilongwe to hunt for piece work, the only source of living for the family.


Out of desperation, the mother of two says she screamed for help from neighbours who rescued her and her children.

“Luckily, we only sustained minor injuries but property especially kitchen utensils were completely destroyed,” Elias says.

She adds: “Although I am in a desperate situation at the moment, I thank God for sparing my life because no one could believe that we came out of the rubble.”

Mary Soziwa from Thopoloni Village in TA Makhuwira’s area in Chikwawa shares a similar story.

The 27-year-old mother, who also looks after three orphans, says the rains have subjected her family to abject poverty.

“I have four children and I also take care of three orphans. But I can tell you that we are in dire need because we neither have food nor a house for our accommodation,” she says.

Elias and Soziwa were,at the time of conducting this interview, seeking shelter at Phimbi 1 and Mpama evacuation camps in Balaka and Chikwawa, respectively.

The camps are among 187 pitched in all the affected districts to provide shelter to 94, 000 people displaced by the harsh weather induced floods.

Since displacement also comes with other issues such as sanitary concerns, Elias and Soziwa complained of cholera, diarrhea and scabies threat to under-five children and expectant mothers due to poor sanitation and hygiene in the camp.

“At Mpama camp in the area of TA Makhuwira in Chikwawa, about 828 households share 12 classrooms at Mpama Primary School with each accommodating about 90 people.

“This congestion poses a health threat of communicable diseases such as scabies and tuberculosis,” Soziwa said.

She added that some people do not properly use the make-shift latrines erected at the camp exposing under-five children and expectant mothers to water-borne diseases like cholera and dysentery.

Aerial view of the affected areas in lowershire.

In spite of the situation, the two women should consider themselves lucky if the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA) Public Relations Officer Chipiliro Khamula’s sentiments are anything to go by.

Khamula indicates that the floods hit almost one million people in Malawi, killing 60 and injuring 577 in the country’s 15 districts of Balaka, Zomba, Mangochi, Phalombe, Chikwawa and Nsanje, among others.

In the wake of the catastrophe, President Arthur Peter Mutharika declared a state of disaster.

This is the second time for President Mutharika to declare a state of disaster in the affected areas which displaced nearly a quarter of a million people in 2015 across the country.

Mutharika, therefore, undertook visits to people displaced by the floods in the Southern Region to console bereaved families as well as cheer the survivors with relief items.

Additionally, Mutharika has been calling upon local and international development partners as well as governments to assist in alleviating the plight of people affected by the disaster.

One such local organisation which has positively responded is World Vision Malawi (WVM) which distributed food and non-food items to 141 displaced families in TA Nkaya’s area in Balaka.

WVM Programme Manager for Ntcheu and Balaka Limbani Gondwe says in Balaka close to 14, 000 households have been affected by the disaster.

Among the affected, 1, 800 households are from TA Nkaya, the organisation’s impact area.

According to Gondwe, the extent of damage includes collapsed houses and washed away crop fields, putting people in desperate situation.

“We believe that when people are in such a predicament, they cannot contribute positively to development initiatives taking place in their respective areas,” he says.

Therefore, WVM donated l0 kilogrammes of maize flour, 10 packets of soya pieces, l0-metre plastic sheets and plastic buckets to every household to enable them recover from the effects of the disaster.

Gondwe also says beyond the handouts, WVM eyes for long-term plan to support the communities to uplift their livelihoods.

Today, hundreds of internally displaced people including Elias and Sizowa are slowly regaining their normal lives following the distribution of relief items and provision of medical care to treat different ailments.

“We are grateful for the response and this is helping us a lot in alleviating our suffering caused by the disastrous torrential rains,” Sizowa acknowledges.

Meanwhile, a Situation Report No. 5 released on 20 May, 2019, by DoDMA in conjunction with the United Nations Office of the Resident Coordinator, 731,879 people have been reached with food assistance.

“Safe water was provided for 91,101 people through water trucking and rehabilitation of boreholes. Over 42,874 people have access to improved sanitation facilities in camps and the surrounding areas,” reads the report.

The report further says DoDMA and partners are verifying the number of people that have returned to their places of origin and to accurately count those remaining in displacement sites to inform programming.

“DoDMA and the Malawi Red Cross are currently reviewing the data from the recent Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) exercise to accurately inform on the remaining numbers of displaced populations,” the situation report says.

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