President Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi has appealed to the international community to send urgent help to the southern African nation, which has been ravaged by storms that have killed more than 300 people and displaced hundreds of thousands more.
“We need immediate help,” he told Al Jazeera on Thursday from outside a camp in Blantyre, Malawi’s commercial capital and one of the areas hardest hit. “We need helicopters now that [the storms have] cleared off somewhat so that we can airlift some foodstuffs and other equipment.”
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Tropical Cyclone Freddy hit the coast of southern Africa for a second time over the weekend, causing devastation in Malawi and its neighbour Mozambique. At least 326 people have been confirmed dead in Malawi, bringing the overall number of fatalities across the region to more than 400 since February.
Chakwera, who declared 14 days of mourning and pledged $1.5m in assistance, has now called for more aid, saying the country’s capacity to provide relief is limited.
“Climate change is real, and what we are having to see is devastation,” the president said. “Thirteen months, three devastating cyclones. We are trying to do the best we can to pull ourselves by [our] bootstraps.”
As climate change causes warmer oceans, heat energy from the water’s surface is fuelling stronger storms. Freddy broke the world record for most accumulated cyclone energy, a measure based on a storm’s wind strength over its lifetime. Meteorologists say it might break two more records.
Chakwera said recovering from such a storm cannot happen without international help. “What is happening to us can happen to anyone, anywhere,” he said. “Let the world come in and help Malawi because we cannot afford to be going backwards instead of forward in terms of all the provisions that Malawians need.”
Rasmane Kabore, emergency coordinator for Doctors Without Borders in Blantyre, said the most pressing issue was the lack of clean water, which could cause a cholera outbreak like the aftermath of Cyclone Anna in the country’s south last year.
In his interview with Al Jazeera, Chakwera concurred, calling for shelter, blankets and amenities that will help with water and sanitation provision to the people because we do not want another outbreak of waterborne diseases”.
Earlier on Thursday, Yusuf Nthenda, member of parliament for Mulanje West, told Al Jazeera correspondent Fahmida Miller that the community had yet to receive any aid and some of his constituents had no food to eat.
In response, the president said his government had begun providing help but some communities were inaccessible because roads have been washed away by mudslides.
But “my goal and my desire is let everyone be accounted for”, he said.