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Tales from Nsanje: Aftermath of Cyclone Idai

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By Eric Msikiti:

LONG WALK TO RECOVERY — Some survivors walk out of a camp

Before March 5 2019, people of Kaleso Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Mbenje in Nsanje were leading their lives normally— farming, doing piecework and selling farm produce.

Most of them confess that, although they were resource-constrained, they were at least sleeping in their houses together with their wives, husbands and children.

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The piecework guaranteed not much but, at least, they could afford to buy some clothes, food and books for their school-going children.

Then the floods came, on the night of March 5 this year, destroying the little that was left of their homes, food and livestock.

“We scampered in all directions, not knowing where we were going as it was still dark. All we wanted to do was go as higher as possible so that we could survive,” recollects 50-year-old Fatunesi Brighton of Alfandika Village in T/A Mbenje in the district.

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It was fate that brought Brighton back to her home village to face the floods two years after relocating from Zomba where she was living with her husband.

“After his [husband] death, tradition demanded that I should come back to my home village because I could no longer live in my husband’s village,” the widow, who now looks after three grandchildren, narrates.

Now, Brighton and her three grandchildren live in a tent UN refugee agency, United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), donated to her and other families affected by the floods in the district recently.

She fetches and sales firewood apart from doing some piecework for her survival and that of her grandchildren.

But business is proving difficult as most people who used to give her such piecework and, indeed, used to buy the firewood from her are also recovering from the floods and money is hard to come by.

“We are still struggling and business is not that all good but we are surviving, all of us who were affected by the floods,” she says.

Two kilometres away from where Brighton lives, lies Kaleso Village, in the same area, where Zalimba John, 68, lives.

A father of two, John says the floods hit his homestead in the wee hours of that fateful day, destroying his only house and sweeping away his two goats and some maize that he managed to harvest the previous year.

He now only provides his family with one meal per day.

“They [floods] came while we were asleep, we were taken unawares and the only thing I had in my mind was to rescue my son who is physically challenged and could, therefore, not manage to run to a higher ground,” Zalimba says.

Lucky enough, Zalimba managed to rescue his son and his wife but the story is different with his goats; not that he did not try.

“Before the floods, I used to do technical works such as constructing houses and carpentry but all such work is hard to come by now because most of my customers are victims of the floods themselves, so it will indeed take long for me and my family to recover,” he says.

Zalimba is among thousands of Malawians currently relying on aid in the aftermath of the floods that hit the country following Cyclone Idai that made landfall in Malawi and other neighbouring countries in March this year.

Efforts are currently in progress to help the survivors return to their normal lives.

But it will not be easy. Zalimba’s and Brighton’s , for example, homes remain in high-risk areas.

“It is difficult for me to relocate to high ground because there I would be required to buy land to build my house on and some for farming, a very expensive venture in this part of the country,” says John, adding: “I have to have at least K100,000 for me to purchase land, that is why I am still here at my original place.”

Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) projects that at least 800,000 Malawians were affected by the floods.

At least 60 people lost their lives and over 100,000 people were displaced and had been living in camps which are currently being decommissioned following various interventions during the recovery stage of the emergency response.

But Dodma reports suggest that at least 5,000 households remain in camps in Chikwawa alone although officials say the figures could be high.

During his visit to some of the affected countries in this part of Africa, UNHCR Director of the African Region Valentin Tapsoba described the Malawi situation as unprecedented.

Tapsoba called on the international community to come and assist Malawians affected by the floods in the recovery and development processes having assisted in the emergency response.

“We know that many people and organisations of goodwill have responded to this emergency but we now need even more support to help Malawians recover and, indeed, develop in the aftermath of the floods,” Tapsoba said.

He then reiterated his agency’s commitment to supporting the country beyond the floods, considering that Malawi is also providing shelter to the people of Mozambique who crossed the borders fleeing floods.

“We stand in solidarity with the people of Malawi and we acknowledge this gesture, suffice to say that, as an agency which takes care of displaced people, we will continue providing the much-needed support to both Malawians and Mozambicans displaced by the floods to at least lift off some of the burden from the Malawi government,” Tapsoba said.

UNHCR has been providing temporary housing in form of tents and other relief food items to the internally displaced people in the country.

As of May this year, 2,000 Malawian households had already benefitted from the initiative.

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