Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Unprecedented floods in Malawi

A few days ago, terrible floods destroyed homes and livelihoods in Southern Malawi.

Flooded areas in Nsanje ©Innocent Mbvundula/CARE

The true extent of the damage is still not known but Lendwithcare's microfinance partner in Malawi, the MicroLoan Foundation, has told us that clients from at least two of their branches have been badly affected. It will take around six weeks for the water to subside enough for  MicroLoan Foundation staff to assess the impact of the floods on their client’s lives and businesses and in the meantime they are simply going out to reassure all their clients that they will help them through this crisis.

We have of course informed our local partner that Lendwithcare will also support them through this difficult time so as soon as we receive more information on which clients have been affected and to what extend we will let you know.

As we wait for more  information , here is the testimony of Innocent Mbvundula, a CARE Malawi member of staff.

“The devastation of floods as we saw it in Nsanje”

Flooded areas in Nsanje district, Malawi where waters have damaged houses, livestock and property. ©Innocent Mbvundula/CARE

Malawi’s Nsanje District in the lower Shire River basin lies 150 feet above sea level. While the district has been hit by floods on many occasions in the past, the recent continuous, heavy rains that pelted the region for five consecutive days led to heavy flooding in areas that have never experienced flooding before.

Floods have, for many people of Nsanje, become a normal annual occurrence, but the scale of this year’s floods are unprecedented. Travelling from Malawi's commercial city of Blantyre to Nsanje at the southern tip of Malawi, one is greeted by the sorry sight of damaged houses, hectares of land where the crops have been washed away, and men, women and children in dire need of basic amenities in various evacuation centres. All this is as a result of floods that have left over 50 people, including numerous children, dead in the district.

In traditional authority Mlolo, all public services have been suspended. Health centres and schools are submerged in water. Access to the area is only possible by helicopter and boats, making it difficult to reach the affected households. Listening to the affected people, especially women, it is clear this is a tragedy that they will never forget.

Grace Lawrence, a 20-year old pregnant woman relocated to Nyachilenda evacuation centre, will always remember this tragedy due to the loss of her daughter; Grace’s second born daughter, 3-year old Marita, could not be traced at the time of the rescue operation undertaken by the Malawi Defence Forces. Apparently, she fell from the roof and died but Grace does not know exactly what happened. 

Grace Lawrence at evacuation camp. ©Innocent Mbvundula/CARE

For Mathews Damiano of Brighton village in traditional authority Mbenje, life will never be the same. The floods happened at a time when his business was growing from strength to strength. From a humble beginning, his vegetable and fruit business grew steadily to become a reliable source of income. Today, a family that had become self-sufficient is now at the Bangula evacuation centre, destitute.

In a matter of days, the house he and his wife, Elube, laboured to build is but rubble as a result of floods. He lost all his property including a store house located 50 meters from their house. At the time of destruction, the store house had merchandise worth K50, 000 (US$104) in it.

“It will take us some time to recover from this damage. It took us years of hard work to build our house and the store house. We don’t know what to do now,” says Mathews Damiano.

In some areas of Nsanje district essential public services have been suspended. School has been disrupted for thousands of students. The floods have forced children to stop going to school because some schools have been damaged by the floods while others have been turned into evacuation centres. This disruption in school is particularly hard on students waiting to sit for their national examinations in May.

Marita Samuel, an elderly woman in her 80’s we met at Marka camp site, on the Malawi-Mozambique border, says in her life time she has never seen such devastating floods.

“We have experienced floods in the past. It is not a strange occurrence. I remember we had extensive flooding in 1986 and it was destructive, but this flooding is worse than that one. I’m lost for a word,” said Marita.

Clearly, these floods have brought catastrophic effects to the people of Nsanje. It will take time to recover from the loss. In some cases it will be impossible to fully recover, as is the case of loss of life. Families, relatives and close friends have been separated, in some cases, forever. History will record these floods as one of the worst disasters in the history of the lower Shire district.

By Innocent Mbvundula , CARE Malawi”
January 26, 2015

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