Malawi’s struggling flood victims brace for impending cyclone

Flooding in Malawi kills at least 56 and affects hundreds of thousands of others as a new storm approaches.

The death toll inflicted by floods in Malawi has risen sharply to 56 following search-and-rescue missions in the most remote affected areas.

Powerful tropical storm Idai is poised to bring more rain and flooding to the country, which is already reeling from recent weather. 

Thousands of flood survivors are sleeping on the floor in a half-finished hospital in Makina village, Zomba southern Malawi, one of the areas worst hit by flooding. Their homes and belongings were swept away by rushing water.

Four days of non-stop rainfall swelled the Phalombe River until it burst through a long dyke built last year for protection. The water spread across a large area until it reached surrounding villages. 

Inhabitants say the water rose quickly, surprising them in the middle of the night. They were woken by barking dogs and the screams of others.


Dorica Mateba, 83, said her granddaughter carried her on her back through waist-deep water to a boat, which took her to safety.  

“I have lost everything such that only these clothes I am wearing now are my only possessions, nothing else,” Mateba told Al Jazeera.

So far, no aid had arrived. Zione Phiri, a mother of five who also lost everything in the flooding was concerned her children would get malaria because there were no mosquito nets. Mateba and others were sleeping on bare floors without blankets.

In Bangula camp, 200 kilometres south of Zomba, in Nsanje on Malawi’s southern tip, there were no toilets, sparking concerns about disease. Flood survivors said the only help they had received had been beans on Monday. 

Malawi’s Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA) said on Wednesday a total of 922,945 people have been affected and of these, 82,725 people have been displaced from their homes.

Most are living in 187 camps. 

There are also 557 recorded injuries while three people have been reported missing.

Apart from destroying lives, crops and property, the floods affected electricity generation, causing blackouts in the commercial city of Blantyre. Some roads and bridges were also washed away, cutting off road access to some areas. 

In those areas such as Makhanga in Nsanje and East Bank, the government is relying on a Malawi Defence Force (MDF) helicopter to rescue the injured and distribute food supplies to survivors.

At least 56 people have been killed in the floods in Malawi [Al Jazeera]
At least 56 people have been killed in the floods in Malawi [Al Jazeera]

 Approaching cyclone

Tropical cyclone Idai beings new threats. As of Thursday morning, winds accompanying the storm were sustained at 195 km/h, gusting to 240 km/h, making it equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane.

Currently, the centre of Idai is still in the warm open waters of the Mozambique Channel, approximately 200 kilometres east of Beira. The storm will continue to track west towards the coast and is expected to make direct landfall late Thursday.

It will bring more rain and storm surges to already waterlogged areas of the region. 

Malawi has been hard-hit by flooding, leaving tens of thousands homeless [Kandani Ngwira/Al Jazeera] 
Malawi has been hard-hit by flooding, leaving tens of thousands homeless [Kandani Ngwira/Al Jazeera] 

Wilson Moleni, principal secretary and commissioner at DoDMA said the government is prepared and has put in place measures to minimise casualties to human life and property when the cyclone arrives in Malawi’s territory. 

“First of all, we know the cyclone will hit in the low areas close to Mozambique where there are already floods. So we have told people not to return to their houses until the cyclone is over. We have told them to evacuate from the low areas and remain upland. 

“Apart from that, the MDF chopper will be on standby to rescue those trapped in difficult circumstances. In the event that the chopper does not fly due to bad weather, we have sourced 10 boats that are on standby to be operated by MDF personnel for search and rescue missions,” he said.

Aid in short supply

President Arthur Peter Mutharika, who is seeking a second term in office in general elections in April, has been travelling in flood-affected areas since Tuesday.

He assured those affected that the government will assist them and provide for their needs until their lives are back to normal.

Aid has been slow to arrive in camps in remote districts [Screengrab/Al Jazeera]
Aid has been slow to arrive in camps in remote districts [Screengrab/Al Jazeera]

Organisations such as Save the Children, the World Food Programme, and Malawi’s Red Cross said they were on the ground assisting people. 

Red Cross spokesman Felix Washoni said his organisation was already operating in six affected districts, complementing the government’s efforts in assisting survivors with fast-cooking food items, blankets, nets, tents and kitchen utensils.

“We are aware of the potential for disease outbreaks, this is why we are bringing mosquito nets, chlorine water treatment equipment, and we are also constructing temporary toilets,” he said.

“There are still many areas we need to reach because there are 187 camps across the affected districts. We are also administering First Aid to the injured and assisting in camp set-up and management”.

So far, South Africa is the only foreign government assisting Malawi’s flood survivors. A team of medical experts arrived in Malawi on Wednesday and are in the field to assess the needs of the people before aid arrives.

Kandani Ngwira reported from Bangula and Makina, Malawi

Source: Al Jazeera