Christian Aid supports thousands hit by 'catastrophic' Malawi floods

By agency reporter
January 24, 2015

UK-based churches' global development agency Christian Aid is providing emergency assistance to deluged communities in Malawi, in the aftermath of the worst floods the country has seen in nearly two decades.

More than 630,000 people have been affected, with 120,000 of these displaced by the torrential rain and flooding which hit the country’s southern districts a week ago, washing away homes, livestock, crops and roads.

Development agencies are working to provide 40,000 people in Nsanje and Chikwawa districts with access to clean water, toilets facilities and temporary shelter.

Existing water sources such as boreholes and wells have been damaged or swept away, as have many public and household latrines. There are growing fears that the few remaining water sources could become contaminated, leaving communities exposed to the threat of water-borne diseases such as cholera.

Relief organisations will be building 50 latrines, distributing 1,800 water purification tablets and jerry-cans, and constructing or rehabilitating 200 emergency sanitation facilities – including water points – in the most vulnerable areas over the coming weeks.

As many homes have been destroyed, 1,800 tarpaulins will be distributed to provide emergency shelter for up to 9,000 people. Partners will also hand out 850 insecticide-treated mosquito nets, particularly targeting pregnant mothers and children under five. In addition 4,000 families will receive kits containing essential household and hygiene items.

Christian Aid’s Malawi Country Manager, MacDuff Phiri, described the floods as “catastrophic”.

He said: “The impact has been huge. The majority of people here live on less than US$1 a day, and everything they own has been washed away. It means they need to rebuild their lives, which isn’t going to be easy. Some people might be able to recover completely; others will not be able to do so. As a result, poverty levels will deepen in some areas.”

He continued: “Countries like Malawi are very susceptible to malaria. Lots of rain means more mosquitoes breeding, and more mosquitos breeding means more malaria. There is also a risk of water-borne diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea, which could kill more people than the floods themselves. That’s why one priority for Christian Aid is to distribute insecticide-treated nets and water treatment supplies to enable people to collect safe water.”

Malawi is among the world’s poorest countries and one of the most densely populated in Africa. It depends largely on agriculture, which accounts for more than a third of its GDP. However, the majority of households in the affected districts lost their food reserves in the floods. An estimated 7,000 hectares of crops in Chikwawa and a further 8,000 hectares in Nsanje were completely destroyed.

The disaster will perpetuate livelihood and food insecurity in farming communities. Mr Phiri said: “Many people’s gardens and fields have been washed away. Others will have to wait for the water to subside before they can plant again. The challenge is that not everybody will have access to seeds. The lack of food could lead to high levels of malnutrition, especially in children, over the coming months.”

The World Food Programme is providing food to affected families, as the country had already been facing chronic food insecurity. Erratic weather patterns, unreliable rains, prolonged dry spells, regular floods and droughts have made it difficult for farmers to harvest traditional food crops such as maize.

Many Christian Aid partners in Malawi have been working in the rural flood-hit communities for several years, helping families to develop and diversify their farming methods, and supporting communities to build their resilience to future climate-related disasters.

“In the communities where we’ve invested a lot over the last few years, we were seeing success stories,” says Mr Phiri. “Some of that investment has now been washed away. We moved so many steps forward and right now we’ve moved many steps back. Rebuilding this resilience will be a challenge, but it is critical.

“In Malawi the climate is changing, it is real, and people’s lives are being affected. Just imagine: everything they’ve worked on for the whole of their lives washed away in a moment. This catastrophe is a very clear example of the impact of climate change. It can happen at any point and any time. For people going through it, it’s real and for those of us on the ground serving these people, it’s real.”

The situation in the country is expected to worsen, with the Malawi Meteorological Department forecasting heavy rainfall until March.

* Christian Aid: http://www.christianaid.org.uk/

[Ekk/3]

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