Scars of Cyclone Freddy
By Isaac Salima:
Until Sunday afternoon almost a month ago, Kelita Zimizu was a proud wife and mother of four.
On the material day, Zimizu, whose house was at Matope in Ndirande Township, Blantyre, woke up early as usual to, among other things, prepare her husband, a minibus conductor, for work.
The husband returned home hours later as they failed to conduct business due to Tropical Cyclone Freddy-induced rains.
Around 12pm, Zimizu heard noise from people who were escaping from their houses after water came running down Ndirande hill.
“My husband rushed outside to understand what was happening and the next thing we saw was the wall of our house collapsing on us. Water was all over the house but we managed to come out,” Zimizu said.
The husband carried two children in his hands while she carried the other two and, then, started running for their dear lives.
“The volume of the water was just too much and we could not last a distance. The water started sweeping us away and, by sheer luck, some people rushed to our rescue.
“However, they could only reach out to me and the child I carried in my hands. I saw my husband and daughter helplessly being swept away by water,” she said.
“The daughter was found dead days later while my husband is still missing. Hopes of him being found alive are fading,” Zimizu said.
Once the proud owner of a comfortable house and family, Zimizu is now hopeless and homeless.
She is among flood survivors seeking refuge at Matope Primary School in Ndirande.
Her husband is among 537 people still missing after being washed away by running water.
We found Zimizu at the camp carrying her two-year-old son on the back. The other child is staying with a well-wisher.
As she narrated the ordeal, Zimizu tried to comfort herself but the pain of retelling the story was just too much such that her voice cracked.
“I am finished. I do not know where to start from. I do not have anything left with me. I am here at the camp, where we, sometimes, do not receive food but, unlike my colleagues, who have husbands, I have none. I am alone and do not have money for buying something for my son,” Zimizu, with tears registering in her eyes, said.
Zimizu is one of the thousands of people who have been left devastated and defeated by cyclone-induced rains that ravaged the country’s Southern Region districts after the cyclone made landfall on March 11 this year.
The natural phenomenon has left many wounds, which would certainly take many years to heal.
However, for people like Zimizu, it is a double tragedy; losing loved ones and, then, having no food and clothes.
Psychologically, people like her need special counselling.
At least, this is what psychologists are saying. Psychologists say Malawi should not forget the mental wellbeing of Tropical Cyclone Freddy survivors, saying counselling is as important as the food-and non-food items the people are getting.
Psychologist Chioza Bandawe cited post-traumatic stress as one of the conditions that could crop up in some of the survivors.
“For instance, those affected could have nightmares, flashbacks and can be prone to anxiety and depression.
“We must not only be concerned about what the people have lost physically but also their mental health. Some will be in a numb state, which can affect their day-to-day life. They can experience fear and will withdraw and want to be alone,” Bandawe said.
He further said mental services should be provided to those affected so that they can process what they have been through.
Psychologist John Kuyokwa concurred with Bandawe, saying, considering that things happened in the blink of an eye, it could take time for some people to process what happened.
“This experience can be quite traumatic but can be approached by looking at their physiological needs such as accommodation, security and so on.
“However, within the camps, it is important that if anyone is showing some abnormal behaviour, they must be reported to the nearest health centre so that they get assistance. It’s important that these individuals are given support, even just by spending some time with them talking because, at this point, some of them may feel like they have no future after losing everything to the cyclone,” Kuyokwa said.
However, as cyclone survivors still wait for such services, considering that some areas are still inaccessible by road, sad tales of what the unforgiving disaster has caused continue to be told in camps.
From the many that have been left homeless to those that have lost their loved ones, the damage is just too much to bear.
“I thank God for sparing our lives but I do not know what next for me. I stay with my grandchildren. They all look up to me for support but now my house is gone and everything that was in it went with the raging waters. As old as I am, where will I start from in rebuilding my life?” Grace Dansa, who is staying at Mthawira camp in Machinjiri, Blantyre, said.
The cyclone has, so far, killed 676 people, displacing 659,000 others.
Over 2.5 million people have been affected.
The country, which was also hit by cyclones Ana in January and Gombe in March last year, is yet to recuperate.
For instance, it has taken about 14 months for the Electricity Generating Company to partly bring back Kapichira Power Plant, which was completely washed away by the ravaging water.
That tells of how disasters do more harm to least developed countries like Malawi.
“There are people who are worst hit and authorities should prioritise them during provision of recovery support,” St John Ambulance Vice President Margaret Ali observed.
The Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) recently announced that they are considering giving take-home packages to people who will be leaving evacuation camps.
“We will support people who are in camps for the next three months. We are not forcing anyone to stay or leave camps. Those who feel ready to leave the camps and have somewhere to stay are free to do so.
“However, we are planning to give something to people who are in camps so that it can help them in the recovery process,” Moses Chimphepo, Dodma Director of Preparedness, said.
Dodma recently announced that it needs over K100 billion for the recovery process.
However, barely a month after the cyclone hit the country, some people in evacuation camps continue complaining of food challenges.
It is clear that the path to the future is far from paved.