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Villages do ground work in disaster response

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They have developed a map of their area. In that map, they have indicated key important challenges.

In areas that are disaster prone, they have marked them out with a red star.

Together, the communities that make up the Kampani Village Civil Protection Committee (VCPC) find out the cases of these disasters and how they can mitigate them.

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This is a community initiative in Mkumbira’s area in Traditional Authority Chikweo in Machinga. It is a product of the Enhancing Community Resilience Programme (ECRP), a five year programme funded by UK aid, Irish Aid and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and run by a consortium led by international development agency Christian Aid, with Care International, Action Aid and 10 other implementing partners.

In a country so prone to disasters, the role of the communities who are often the worst hit and where the disasters happen is paramount.

The trend has always been that officials from the district councils or central government should bring the response and issue information about any impending disasters.

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But there has been a general outcry that such a response is often delayed.

That is why communities have to come on board with localised initiatives to fill the information gap and mitigate the impacts of disasters.

Supported by Emmanuel International, a partner in the ECRP, the Kampani committee focuses on disaster preparedness, emergency response and recovery, according to Jack Issa, a member of the committee.

“As a part of preparedness, we have been planting trees along river banks and moving people from flood-prone areas,” he says.

And to enhance their efforts, the committee targets working with school committees, local churches and community-based organisations.

Issa hopes this approach will enable them reach as many residents as possible when floods are imminent.

The village committees have come in handy in terms of determining the scale of disasters and deciding how to respond to them.

When disasters strike, the committees assess how many people have been affected, the loss of livestock and damage to property and crops.

They then send this information to Area Civil Protection Committees (ACPCs) and then the district disaster office, enabling it to determine how many households might face food insecurity, for instance, and better plan future humanitarian assistance.

George Mkwaila, who chairs Chikweo ACPC, says community members in his area have been trained in first response to rescue people when disasters strike.

In Chikwawa, one of the districts in the country which is prone to flooding, VCPCs have in place plans to ensure the committees have enough resources to be able to reach out to those that would be affected by floods while they await for more assistance from the government and other partners.

As a measure to mitigate the impact of disasters, the committee also goes about checking houses and other structures to determine if they can withstand weather-related shocks.

Early warning systems is one of the key pillars of ECRP as it provides timely and relevant information that allows those in danger to take action to avoid or reduce the risk of harm or losses and prepare for an effective response.

Meteorologist Josta Mahalu says under ECRP, four centres have been set up and equipped with rain gauges to observe rainfall trends.

Information from these centres helps farmers to plan the planting of their crops and which varieties to plant.

The information also helps them to predict the amount of water that can be expected in their irrigation schemes.

The ECRP communities receive this information through Esoko, an African agricultural information and communication service which provides market information, weather forecasts and growing tips.

Chakhumata Yokoniya, chair of the VCPC in Group Village Headman Khungubwe in Lilongwe says text messages sent through Esoko to small scale farmers helps in reporting localised weather information.

“Once we get these messages from weather experts we mobilise the farmers using a public address system to alert them of impending weather.

“The information also arms those doing conservation agriculture. It is crucial in decision making on what type of seed and varieties should be planted as part of resilience building and food security,” he says.

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