100 Days of Response to Malawi Floods

Press Statement (27/05/15): Malawi suffered its worst flooding in decades in January this year, when the Southern region received 400 percent higher rainfall, causing the Shire and other major rivers to reach their highest level in 30 years. More than 1.1 million people were affected by the disaster and more than 63,000 hectares were submerged by floodwaters. Nearly a quarter of a million people were forced to seek temporary shelter in schools, churches and temporary sites. The devastation caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to properties and livelihoods.

Last week, Thursday, April 23rd, marked 100 days since President Peter Mutharika declared a state of disaster in 15 affected of Malawi’s 28 districts on January 13th. Today up to 145,000 people still remain in camps, according to the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DODMA). Throughout this period, the response to the humanitarian crisis – led and coordinated by DODMA with support from UN agencies, Development Partners, NGOs, Civil Society and the Private Sector – has been rapid and comprehensive.

People gather at Mikolongo school in Chikwawa district to receive rations of maize, pulses, oil and fortified corn soya blend to prevent malnutrition. WFP started food distributions to those displaced by floods on Saturday 17 January.

People gather at Mikolongo school in Chikwawa district to receive rations of maize, pulses, oil and fortified corn soya blend to prevent malnutrition. WFP started food distributions to those displaced by floods on Saturday 17 January.

Within 72 hours of the declaration of the disaster, the World Food Programme (WFP) began distribution of life-saving food assistance, and scaled up to reach 96,800 people within the first week and an additional 180,000 by the second week. To date, WFP has continued its rapid response to food insecurity reaching 368,000 flood victims in addition to the 690,000 covered under the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) lean season response which started before the floods.

Within two weeks of the floods, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was also able to reach 111,738 people with sanitation services, and build 653 latrines, enough to reach 79,770 people. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) was able to rapidly distribute lifesaving reproductive health kits for maternal and neo-natal care.

The UN was able to launch its humanitarian response to the floods almost immediately after the floods started in the affected districts, thanks to additional contributions and reprogramming existing resources from the EU, Flanders, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Norway, UK-aid and the US. Additional resources where provided by Norway, DFID and Flanders through the Humanitarian Window of the UN One Fund.

Other Development Partners who have generously supported the response through the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) include the African Development Bank, Botswana, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Dubai, Iceland, Italy, Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, Sweden and the World Bank.

Critical support has also come from neighbouring countries, individual Malawians and the private sector mobilising to support the response. All this support ensured that over 40 percent of the preliminary response plan to the flood response is funded.

To meet the health needs of the displaced, World Health Organisation (WHO) trained 300 health workers in Chikwawa on prevention and control of disease outbreaks such as cholera, dysentery and malaria, as well as provision of treatment for acute and chronic diseases and injuries. UNICEF distributed life-saving supplies of 7,773 cartons of ready-to-use therapeutic food to treat severely malnourished children. UNFPA, UNICEF and UN Women together provided 1,400 dignity kits to address the special hygiene needs of women and girls of child-bearing age.

To assist farmers whose entire crops were washed away, the government-led Agriculture Cluster with support from FAO targeted 99,000 households to receive agriculture support in 14 districts.

Further, UN Agencies jointly supported the Malawi Police to ensure coordinated follow up on all reported cases of violence with fewer reports on violence received pointing to the effectiveness of community protection structures set up to address any cases of rape, defilement, early marriage and food exchange for sex.

A group of women enjoying crocheting lessons inside the 'safe space for women and girls' at Mpasa camp in Phalombe, Malawi

A group of women enjoying crocheting lessons inside the ‘safe space for women and girls’ at Mpasa camp in Phalombe, Malawi

The social structure of families was also disrupted in displacement because of crowded shared spaces and segregation of sexes. UNFPA supplied 50 tents to be used as “safe spaces” and shelters throughout the flood-affected districts, to help reduce gender based violence. The victims were referred for support services at Victim Support Units, the Malawi Police, and NGO partners like Centre for Alternatives for Victimised Women and Children (CAVOC), Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO), and Women’s Legal Resources Centre (WOLREC). Through the Protection Cluster, UN Agencies have also begun to work with the Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC), which for the first time is monitoring  human rights, protection, and sexual and gender based violence issues in displacement settings.

Parts of the flood affected areas were also inaccessible by road. WFP through the Logistics Cluster led by Ministry of Transport and Public Works, overcame unprecedented challenges in accessing vulnerable populations. The cluster quickly adapted to the needs on the ground, calling forward air support with three helicopters as well as an airboat. In Nsanje, Makhanga still remains an “island” with about 42,000 residents cut off from road access. WFP is facilitating the transportation of food and non-food relief items as well as humanitarian personnel to Makhanga. To date, WFP has transported 677 metric tons of humanitarian cargo and over 1,430 humanitarian workers on behalf of 17 organisations. The items included plastic sheets, jerry cans, food, medicines, chlorine, and vaccines against cholera.

For those children trying to rebuild and to restore normalcy in their lives, that means going back to school. More than 400,000 were unable to attend school because of the effects of the disaster.  Hundreds of schools were either damaged or were being used as camps. UNICEF provided 341 tents to be used as shelters and schools. The agency was also able to reach 62,040 students in 44 schools and 13 camps by supplying essential school materials. UNICEF together with its partners also deployed at least 170 teachers to schools to ensure that students could not only continue their learning, but also in a safe environment.

There are additional humanitarian concerns that UN agencies together with Government and Development Partners have responded to in the crisis. An outbreak of cholera has occurred with 504 cases reported, and seven deaths cited by the Ministry of Health as at April 20th 2015. There is concern that cholera could spread to those living in the displacement camps where poor sanitation and hygiene conditions prevail. WHO together with the International Vaccine Institute (IVI) and Ministry of Health are currently providing oral vaccines in two stages for 160,000 people in Nsanje, with the introduction of a new vaccine, Shancol.

Food security in Malawi, which was already in a fragile state before the floods, is now at a greater risk. The flooding followed by an unexpected drought, particularly in central Malawi, has created a “dual crisis” with food insecurity. The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development has announced about 28 percent decline in maize production compared to last year’s harvest, which will likely translate into a large number of Malawians facing hunger during the upcoming lean season.

The Guardian (1)As Malawi is confronted with severe climatic changes, it is however pleasing to note that the government is already taking some important steps to mitigate the effects of future disasters. It is calling for “climate smart” policies, which through support by the FAO, WFP and UNDP call for ‘best farming’ and disaster risk reduction practices such as increased irrigation, improved watershed management, crop diversification and sustainable land management. The result can be diversification of both incomes and livelihoods.

The UN stands ready to support the Malawi government in these pursuits and to continue working with all partners to ensure lessons learnt from this flood response are taken into account. While we cannot avoid disasters, we can through better preparedness and early warning systems minimise the impact of a disaster. Every dollar spent as an investment on preparedness and disaster risk reduction is worth $7 in savings for the cost of that response.

100 days after the Declaration of Disaster, the response to the floods by the Malawi government is progressing, with particular attention given to containing the cholera outbreak and addressing increased food insecurity. The UN stands ready to work with the government and development partners in confronting this challenge. Malawi is not alone in having to contend with the effects of extreme weather caused by climate change. Not only can it leverage good practices in the region and worldwide for its own use, in the end, it can also become a model as well.