Malawi: heavy rains and flooding leave thousands destitute

Published: 23 January 2015 22:07 CET

By Horace Nyaka

When 80-year-old Nellie Nkhoma went to sleep on the night of 6 January, she expected the following morning to just like any other with nothing more difficult than housework to do. Little did she know that she would wake up destitute. She had lost her home and everything she owned.

Nkhoma, a widow from Sekeni village in Chikwawa, is one of over 135,000 Malawians displaced by heavy floods that hit southern Malawi. The effects were worst in the districts of Phalombe, Chikwawa and Nsanje. Almost 200 people have died and others are still missing according to the Malawi Government.

“The flooding started in the middle of the night,” Nkhoma said. “I realized water was filling up in my house and had to force the door open to flee for safety. I went to the village headman’s house as I had nowhere else to go.” She is now living at the temporary camp set up at Nchalo Trading Center in Chikwawa.

“I had a house, a proper toilet and bathroom, all these are gone, together with all my household items. What I am left with are these clothes I am wearing,” she said. “I have no food, clothes or any blankets and I am relying the same chitenje (wrapping cloth) to cover myself with when sleeping.”

Her story is similar to most people who are at the temporary camp, which is now home to 3,000 people, mostly living in tents provided by the Malawi Red Cross Society, the Malawi Army and UNICEF. Village Headman Sekeni said people were sleeping on the road after the floods. “We had nowhere to shelter these people and the only safe place they could be was on the road. We had some relief when the Red Cross and erected 10 tents. These were not enough and they had to give us 15 more tents which were also not enough,” he said. The number of people coming to the camp is increasing every day.

In Dzilonzo village, 6km from the camp, the effects of the rain and floods are conspicuous. Roads around Nchalo have been cut off, houses are still submerged in water while others have been completely destroyed.

Brazilio Mpomphwa, one of the Red Cross volunteers working at the camp, said that more help was needed. “We have provided them with the tents and nets, but these are not enough because the numbers continue to rise,” he said. “There is not enough food and many are sleeping on empty stomach.” Despite these problems, Mpomphwa said, Red Cross volunteers continue to support the flood victims.

“We are providing first aid and social support to all the camps. We take the sick to clinics and give counselling to victims,” he said.

The Malawi Red Cross Society, with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, plans to assist 40,000 affected people in Chikwawa, Nsanje, Phalombe and some urban parts of the city of Blantyre between February and March. “People will need continued support for some time and we need $2.7 million US dollars to provide such support,” said Secretary General Ethel Kaimila. Funds raised will be used to distribute additional emergency relief supplies such as kitchen sets, shelter kits and tarpaulins; food supplies to support displaced families for three months, and to rehabilitate 600 houses damaged by the floods.