By Stephen Dakalira:
There usually is an aura of excitement whenever the rainy season starts and it was not much different in 2018 as the heavens opened up to release the first drops, bringing with it hope for the people of a possible bumper harvest.
Of course, no one can blame them for their optimism, considering that, not long ago, the country was being perpetually hit by hunger. In July 2015, local media reported that 2.8 million Malawians were facing hunger in 25 of the country’s 28 districts and in February 2018, about 1.9 families were said to be facing hunger.
It was largely believed that the irregular rainfall pattern, coupled with devastating effects of climate change such as prolonged dry spells, were the major reasons the country was failing to produce enough food.
Thus, you can imagine the sigh of relief by both subsistence and commercial farmers when the onset of the rains finally dawned upon us. No one, however, envisaged that with the rains would come disruption of life.
In Lilongwe, trouble was brewing in locations such as Biwi, Kawale, Chipasula, Kaliyeka, areas 22 and 36. The unthinkable happened on Thursday January 10, 2019 when these areas received more than their fair share of heavy rains.
The terrible sight of a washed-away bridge along the Chidzanja Road and Mchesi Bridge was a clear indication of just how grave the situation was. Even little children who would, otherwise, have been skipping, dancing around and singing ‘London Bridge is falling down’ in their playful mood, recognised that this was no time for funny games as some of them stood frozen close to the bridge, refusing to believe what their eyes were seeing.
A visit by Times crew to the areas showed that even crop fields had been destroyed.
Most houses along the river banks where the two bridges are located were almost submerged in water.
An eye witness, Christopher Mapila, recounted having seen some houses submerged in water.
“When the rains started (falling), we thought it would be a short time but it kept pouring and then the other side of Kaliyeka was flooded. A lot of houses have been affected, rendering many homeless,” he told Malawi News.
In a preliminary report released by the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma), it was even feared that two people who had not been accounted for might have died in the floods.
“We thank God that this happened during the day. The situation would have been worse if the floods came at during the night,” Dausi is quoted as saying in the Dodma statement.
He further stressed the need to find lasting solutions to flooding which affects the areas year in year out.
“We will liaise with the communities so that, together, we find a solution by moving to the uplands other than continuing to stay in flood-prone areas. Man-made problems have man-made solutions,” he added.
It has to be borne in mind that during such occurrences, other problems creep in and access to potable water also becomes a challenge. This is aptly put by one Tae Yoo, senior director of corporate philanthropy at Cisco Systems, Inc.
“After a natural disaster, safe drinking water is a priority. Humans can live longer without food than water, so communication about clean water is essential to help avoid the risk of cholera, dysentery, malnutrition, famine and death.”
This is very true because, in Malawi, we have, over the years, seen people being hit by water-borne diseases when disasters such as floods occur. Let us hope that, during this rainy season, such problems will not be rampant and I am certain that non-governmental organisations implementing water and sanitation projects, are monitoring the situation.
When all is said and done, however, drastic action needs to be taken because, as it stands, most people are not going to willingly relocate to upper lands from their flood-prone settlements.
Sometime back, when floods had hit flood prone Nsanje District, the government had to go all out in order to evacuate the victims, as most of them would not willingly relocate, since they had their farmland down within the deep waters.
Malawi Defence Force personnel had to be enlisted for the evacuation mission during that time and you and I know that, when it comes to the soldiers handling any given task, they always mean business. Hopefully, it will not come to that this time in places that have been hit by flash floods.
So, what are you going to do when the rains come calling? You better take cover, or better yet, move to upper lands before disaster strikes.
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