They will strike again
Raging floods and storms and the invasive armyworms that are wiping away crop in the country are likely to exact equal damage— perhaps, even more—in the future.
They struck us last year, the year before and that other year, and it appears we have no clue of mitigating their vicious impacts.
Now, there is another food crisis scare hanging over Malawi as desperate farmers vainly search for ways of securing their crops that are constantly at the mercy of natural disasters.
So, chances are high that households that are struggling to remain on their feet as hunger strikes will once again be turning their eyes to the government and other well-wishers to survive through another crisis season.
And beyond that, authorities will be telling the world again that Malawi needs several billions of kwacha to recover from another wave of disasters that has swept through the poverty-stricken nation.
This time, we need about K270 billion to recover from natural disasters which have pushed on edge thousands of lives in the country.
We have to repair roads, rebuild bridges and reconstruct school blocks, teachers’ houses and health facilities. We have to raise up again many social-services structures that the disasters went away with.
And even if we successfully do that, we will be back to basics once again if we do not put in place proper systems of mitigating the impacts of the disasters.
We will keep moving in circles, raising our begging bowls time and again, if, on our own, we are not willing to control the disasters.
In 2015, the government launched the National Disaster Policy in Mangochi hot on the heels of furious floods and storms that had not spared any part of the country.
Among others, the policy was to guide in coordination of disaster response so that stakeholders are clearly aware of what to do to avoid duplication of efforts.
More importantly, the policy was supposed to be a precursor of a Disaster Bill that would legally steer resilience, mitigation and recovery measures across the country.
It would also place the burden of undertaking certain activities on the heads of some officials so that it would be starkly clear about who was not doing their job.
Five years down the line, the Bill remains raw and vulnerable households continue to live every day with a threat that could be parried away.
A mapping exercise on disaster-prone areas was also conducted but without a legally binding directive, it becomes difficult to ‘force’ people out of their predisposed homes to safer grounds.
So, the nation ‘helplessly’ watches as families in disaster-prone locations in the Shire Valley wait for the accidents to occur.
And the government ‘helplessly’ watches, until the worst occurs, before officials at the Department of Disaster Management Affairs, led by Vice-President Everton Chimulirenji, ride in posh cars down to the victims to offer them a helping hand.
Apart from the usual press statements on escaping disasters, there hasn’t been much information being disseminated, especially to rural communities in disaster-prone areas.
The Department of Meteorological Services and Climate Change is constantly cautioning people in the country on possible tragic occurrences necessitated by ‘abnormal’ rainfall patterns.
But such information is often too ‘urban-centric’. It seldom goes beyond radio and television stations and newspapers. So, someone in Ndamera, Nsanje, might still have no clue about what might strike him.
Of course, we all know that disasters are so shrouded by politics that very basic elements about their response sometimes get stealthily ignored.
It might sound preposterous to posit that governments find it worthwhile to spend resources to help communities recover from disasters. But what plausible explanation is there for consistent failure to address some elements like moving people to safer locations way before disasters strike?
Of course, authorities will tell you that most people in disaster-prone areas are not willing to abandon their ‘ancestral’ homes where they have lived all their lives.
But with proper support, we have seen others doing exactly that. A whole village in Chikwawa relocated to a safer location after raging floods flattened houses and swept away crops and livestock.
They are a typical model of what communities can do if they are convinced it is the best for their lives.
And as floods and storms strike once again, these people are safer than before. They will be watching from a distance as others who stuck to their death traps—and got authorities’ blessings to remain there—struggle to live.
Because, it is clear that disasters are striking again this year and there is no sign that they will relent any time soon.
Alick Ponje is a features writer at The Times Group. He graduated from the University of Malawi with a bachelor’s degree in education, majoring in literature in English. Follow him on Twitter @aponje