Raising resilience in disaster areas

BLISS AT LAST—New house for Milias’ family

The heatwave that recently swept through some parts of Malawi, hitting hard the Shire Valley, left 41-year-old Rose Milias and her family reeling from one of the worst hot weather phenomena in their lives.

A poorly ventilated and rickety mud house was all they had in the scorching condition which meteorologists warned might result in drastic health conditions.

In the one-bedroomed structure, that looks like an abandoned ranch house on a vast piece of land, Milias and her children—including a one-year-old—endured the baking heat which also resulted into the baby developing skin rashes.


“We had nowhere to turn to even when the hot spell hit this area. Already, we experience some of the highest temperatures in the country and this year’s hot spell was just too much,” Milias says, calmly caressing her baby sleeping soundly on a mat.

Nearby, a strong house has risen just beside a heap of few raw bricks and black earth, remnants of the family’s main house which was razed down by a storm some eight months ago.

The blizzard and floods flattened hundreds of houses in Milias’ area, a flat stretch in Chikwawa’s Traditional Authority Lundu, and left thousands of households in the location and other parts of the Shire Valley homeless.


Across the country, at least 60 people succumbed to the natural disasters which forced the government to start seeking all kinds of support to raise survivors back onto their feet.

The worst hit were poor households like Milias’ which consistently look up to sympathisers in times of disasters.

“Survival is a tough task for me and my six children. I have to do piece work in other people’s farms to ensure we have something to eat. The little food that we had was destroyed together with other items in the house,” she says downheartedly.

As the heat rises, a scantly-leafed acacia tree some five yards from Milias’ grass-thatched shack provides some shade for her family and visitors.

In the vicinity of the home, small trees and shrubs— withering in the scorching sun— bow delicately like little pitch pines in a desert.

“I believe storms and floods are common in this area because we don’t have enough trees. The heat is also unbearable because of the same problem of trees,” Milias says.

She then turns her eyes to the new brick house and beams noiselessly.

In it, she says, her family has found relief and will no longer be feeling the pinch of floods and storms common in the area during the rainy season.

“A proper house is what every family desires and it is such big gift for us. Imagine my four daughters and I sleep in a very small room not fit even for one person. My two sons sleep in the sitting room,” Milias explains.

The sitting room’s walls are filled with tracks which allow numerous sharp beams of light to escape in and expose a battered floor on which the boys having been sleeping since their main house succumbed to the furious storms.

The lone bedroom is not any better, Milias says.

“It is like a dream that we will soon be moving into our new house; an iron-roofed one. My happiness is beyond measure,” she says, a smile flitting across her face.

The new house, with its foundation about a metre high from the ground, is among several others that Habitat for Humanity Malawi (HHM) and its partners are constructing for survivors of Idai, a powerful tropical tempest that ravaged parts of the Southern Region.

In the same disaster-prone areas, fortified houses are rising beyond the impact of the disasters which authorities warn might occur again this rainy season.

“The houses are being constructed in such a way that even if floods come, they will still stand firm. Houses which often succumb to the floods and storms are not constructed to withstand the disasters.

MANDA—The houses have elevated foundations

“The houses that we are constructing have elevated foundations such that even if flood water levels rise, they will not go beyond the foundation,” says HHM Resource Development and Partnership Coordinator, Donald Manda.

The non-profit organisation is implementing a JTI Foundation-funded three-year project to assist communities affected by the cyclone to recover and build back better and stronger from the devastation.

Milias’ family is among those benefiting from the project which recently got a boost from Limbe Rotary Club which provided roofing materials.

“We want to ensure that survivors of the tropical cyclone do not suffer the effects of the disaster again. With our partners, we are also sensitising communities on how they can build resilient structures,” Manda says.

Poverty-stricken households in substandard homes which often comprise typical village houses made of raw mud bricks and grass-thatched roofs are at the centre of HHM’s interventions, says Manda.

In locations susceptible to disasters, like those in the Shire Valley, Manda wishes they would reach out to all needy households.

“But we are only doing what we can afford. Several households are in need in terms of shelter. Some people are living in tents and other temporary structures. These people need permanent structures,” he explains.

Still, he is contented with the distinct footmarks which HHM and its partners are leaving behind in communities which they are assisting rise from the disasters.

With resources available, says Manda, they would love to reach every deserving household, in their quest for decent habitats for humanity.

HERE YOU ARE—Limbe Rotary Club members hand over iron sheets to HHM

It is an aspiration shared by Limbe Rotary Club president, Bernard Ndau, who explains that advancing goodwill and meeting the needs of the most vulnerable should be mankind’s utmost mission.

“People in precarious situations need to be reached with all kinds of support so that they get back to their normal lives. We have been working in several places like Chikwawa to assist disaster victims.

“That is why when [HHM] approached us, we gladly came in to support their project. Macsteel Malawi Limited partnered with us to provide the roofing materials,” Ndau says.

With the construction of Milias’ and several other houses almost completed, the support from Limbe Rotary Club would largely go towards others which are not yet there.

At least, the robust structures are rising bit by bit, and vulnerable households such as Milias’ are finding hope in delicate places

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