Come Wednesday afternoon, the death toll had risen to 225, which goes to show just how deadly the cyclone has been. It was even more depressing to learn from the District Commissioner for Blantyre, Alex Mdooko, on Monday that the morgue at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital had been overwhelmed.
It was sad and honestly, quite shattering, as people on Monday morning embarked on a frantic search for those who had been caught up or swept away by the raging waters and huge rocks that tumbled down from Soche Hill in the early hours of that day.
As a country, we were already aware that Cyclone Freddy would hit the Southern part of Africa. Our meteorological specialists had initially played down the likelihood of it affecting Malawi but we still ought to have put in place a contingency plan. We should have anticipated that in the unlikely event that the cyclone would hit, like it has done, people would need shelter (it beats me why we still do not have shelter centres despite experiencing perennial floods), food, clothes and other amenities. They say there is no use crying over spilt milk but then we should have done better.
Much as the experience has been very heartbreaking, it also gives the Malawi nation a hint as to just how much we need to critically look at issues of safety, emergency response and human settlements. It is not by sheer coincidence that most of the heavily affected spots are areas that had initially not been designated for human settlements.
People have over the years been purchasing land from some self-declared estate agents and traditional leaders without necessarily following proper guidelines from those with the know-how. As a result, houses have been built in risky places; some of them have ended up buckling under pressure and collapsing like a deck of cards. We have had scenarios where some have even dared the authorities after being ordered to vacate areas which were deemed prone to disasters such as floods.
If we are to carefully check some of the squatters and mansions that have mushroomed in urban set-up, you will even discover some constructed on river banks and towards or even on hill tops in places that had not been designated for construction of houses by town planners. Should we then cry wolf when the worst happens?
And funny enough, you would find that such households are even fully connected to the electricity grid or water. You tend to wonder as to who, in their right minds, at these institutions end up sanctioning such bizarre connections!
I will rest for now for I am overcome with emotion. My heart goes out to all the families that have lost their loved ones and I wish those that have sustained injuries due to Cyclone Freddy a quick recovery.
Now is the time to make a difference.
It is pleasing to note that in the midst of the calamity that has befallen the country, a lot of people have stood up to render support in this time of great need. This spirit should be encouraged. At the end of the day, we are all that we have got. If you can manage, spare some time to go cheer up the victims with whatever little you might have – it will certainly go a long way.
Aside from individual contributions and those made by charities, it is surprising that only a handful of corporate entities have dipped their hands in their pockets to come to the aid of the victims of Cyclone Freddy. Have they, all of the sudden, forgotten that it is the support of people in Blantyre’s Chilobwe, Ndirande, Machinjiri and Bangwe townships, Chiradzulu, Mulanje, Phalombe, Nsanje, Chikwawa, Zomba, Machinga, Balaka, Mwanza and Neno districts that has helped keep them in business? Why have you chosen to be silent and abandon the ‘customer’ in his or her great time of need? This was the right time to display to all and sundry that you are not just there to fleece the citizenry of their hard-earned cash when times are rosy.
Stephen Dakalira is a seasoned Journalist who works as Times Group’s Online and Digital Executive Editor. He is also the Assistant Editor of The Sunday Times Newspaper, and author of Full Circle column which appears in Malawi News; all of these under the Times Group stable.
He has previously worked in key positions for some of Malawi’s key media institutions such as Malawi News Agency, Capital FM Radio and Star Radio (Now Timveni Radio).