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Preparing for disaster the local way

IMPRESSED — Jalie

The community collected empty sacks from each household, filled them with sand and created protection bunds from the eastern side of Namikalango River,” Group Village Head (GVH) Msomo says.

This is traditional leader of a village in Traditional Authority Mgabu in Chikwawa explaining on a ‘do it yourself’ initiative — a preparedness measure to avert effects of natural disasters such as floods common in the district.

The village — Msomo — is cut across by a river making it prone to floods and inhabitants depend on farming crops such as cotton, millet and maize.

“Since time in memorial, floods were displacing us, Red Cross was one of the organisations offering support in times of trouble, this was unsustainable as we severely depended on an organisation” GVH Msomo says.

The local leader says they then created a Village Civil Protection Committee (VCPC) from which an idea to divert the river sprung.

According to the chief, the bunds— created through bags of sand—were strengthened by trees planted on the river banks that have now become a woodlot.

This was the first of 23 woodlots that the area now has.

The area has five orchards, two schemes where vegetables are grown, three catchment protection areas covered with vetiver grass and two catchment areas covered with bamboo grass to control the running of water down the river.

Chikwawa is one of the areas that are seasonally affected by floods in Malawi and it was not spared in the March 2019 episode dubbed Cyclone Idai.

At least, 15 districts were affected by the cyclone rendering about 868,895 people destitute and 173 camps were created to house the victims.

Organisations such as Food and Agriculture Organisation projected that food security is expected to worsen in the Southern Region of Malawi which produces about one-third of the national maize output due to the floods.

“It is interesting how a common problem facing the community became motivation for them to restore nature in the community, the trees are not only a protective bund against floods but are also of medicinal value as well as food since they are growing papaws as well as oranges” saysThomas Odera, Regional Programme Development Adviser for SOS Children’s Villages for Eastern and Southern Africa.

The “do-it-yourself” spirit has put together companies and organisations including SOS Children’s Villages, Illovo, World Vision, World Food Programme and Ubale to engage in various programmes aimed at alleviating poverty in the area.

According to Odera, SOS embarked on a Family Strengthening Programme to contribute to the community by capacity building for VCPC and its members in different areas including on emergency preparedness, response and recovery.

“We are very impressed with what the emergency committee is doing, they were very inspirational in coming up with creative solutions of preventing floods in the area. However, we feel that there is very little contribution from the government. So, we ask the government to support the committee that is already doing a lot,” says Chris Jalie, Regional Programme Development Adviser for SOS Children’s Villages.

Jalie says Msomo VCPC has an interesting story of how a community that was flooded year after year decided to take charge of their lives and change a hazardous situation that had claimed many lives.

It is not surprising that GVH Msomo feels that they are fast becoming self-reliant four years after they embarked on the initiative.

SOS works with three community-based organisations— who are implementation partners—Nthandizi, Tiphejane and Chapomoka.

The Family Strengthening Programme focuses on children who lost parental care and also who are at a risk of losing parental care.

The programme has also a component of paying school fees for vulnerable children, building houses for families and training guardians in vocation skills so that they are able to support their families.

Recently, a delegation from more than 20 countries also visited other core projects of the Ngabu Family Strengthening Programme, namely positive parenting, community task force and youth employability.

By 2030, SOS intends to reach out to 16,000 children and young people in Malawi – through innovative and community-rooted childcare and family strengthening programmes.

SOS statistics show that around 1.5 million children in Malawi are orphans and vulnerable – these are double or single orphans, growing up with the risk of inadequate care and support.

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