WHEN FLOODS STRIKE

Written by  Yamikani Simutowe

Jane Katchetche, 13, from the area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Mbenje, Nsanje district, is heartbroken. She lost her father, who is among the 20 people declared missing following the ravaging floods caused by Cyclone Ana that hit most parts in the southern region.

Floods damaged homes and washed away property in most parts in the Southern Region Floods damaged homes and washed away property in most parts in the Southern Region
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February

Furthermore, the floods linked to the tropical storm brutally pushed Jane and her two siblings [aged 4 and 8] out of their home.

 

She is among 14,500 people sheltered at Bangula Admarc evacuation centre in Nsanje. Jane’s life, for now, is a mixed bag of grief and uncertainty.


“I don’t know what will become of us. We have lost everything. We can’t go to school. The floods have even washed away my dream of becoming a nurse.

 

“If he [my father] was alive, we would have been hopeful that things would get better and possibly leave this camp, but there is no hope in sight,” says Jane, while wiping up tears from her eyes.

 

Along with them are thousands of children below the age of 5. Those below the age of 18 at this camp are well above 4 thousand.  When they will return to their villages and class depends on how long it will take for the heavy rains to go.

 

Children are also at the receiving end of climate change injustice (Photo-Internet)

 

The plight of Jane and other 32 child-headed households at this camp is at the mercy of humanitarian organizations.

 

Jane is an embodiment of climate change injustice not only in Malawi, but also in the Sub-Saharan region. She represents thousands of school-aged-children who have lost guardians who were providing their needs and supporting them to attend classes to enjoy their right to education—one of the fundamental child rights.

Homeless: A mother and her son at Bangula Admarc Evacuation Centre

 

Apart from displacing households, the floods affected over 100 primary schools across Nsanje, Mangochi, Mulanje and Phalombe with Chikwawa the most affected district consisting 43 percent of the affected population and 45 percent of the displaced population.

 

In Chikwawa, 92 schools have suffered infrastructural damage of varying extent, 25 occupied by IDPs while in Nsanje, 40 primary schools and one community day secondary school are affected, affecting 46,474 learners.

 

“Classrooms and toilets have collapsed and this is the first time we have a very big number of schools affected by floods. Some learners have lost their parents and learning materials and school uniforms.

 

“Some schools [like here at Sekeni Primary] have been turned into evacuation camps and displaced families are sleeping in those schools and a good number of learners are not attending classes,” says Mcshades Dakamau, Chikwawa Chief Education Officer.

Lessons are affected as schools are turned into refuge centres

 

Likewise, the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) admits that the floods have affected an already shortened education calendar year, with over 108,000 learners pushed out of school.

 

Commissioner for Dodma, Charles Kalemba observes that the effects range from school structures being submerged in water; partially or completely collapsed.

 

“We have a greater number of school blocks and teachers’ houses and, in all these schools, most teaching and learning materials such as textbooks were destroyed by water and falling walls.

 

“Currently, schools are in session and it means those children that are supposed to be learning in those schools are not learning, which is not good,” says Kalemba.

 

Education Minister, Agnes NyaLonje, says her Ministry will need about K2 billion for restoration works. Equally in want are several of the country’s road infrastructures, effectively making access to life-saving supplies and services another point of concern. Another familiar narrative of how poor nations are at the receiving end of climate change injustice, at the expense of the rich.

 

In his address at the COP 26 conference in Glasgow, Scotland last year, President Dr Lazarus Chakwera expressed concern that heavily industrialized Western countries are not doing enough to sharply cut greenhouse gases.

 

Chakwera told the conference that Malawi needs 2.3 billion US dollars [nearly K1.9 trillion] annually to reduce emission and cope up with climate change effects.

Chakwera: We have suffered a great deal. (Photo-Internet)

 

The Paris Agreement, a legally binding International treaty on climate change—adopted by 196 Parties at COP 21 in Paris, seeks to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.

 

Equally of relevance in this regard is the 2015 Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. Among other things, the framework seeks to internationally effect substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses by 2030.

 

 "Already, we have suffered a great deal. If things cannot be mitigated, that's more death and more unpredictability. If you have more floods, that's more death. If we have more droughts, that's more death. If we have cyclones, it's more deaths,” said Chakwera.

 

Likewise, Mozambique’s Prime Minister Carlos Agostinho do Rosário admits that the challenge is bigger than any one country's ability to tackle it.

 

"We are a country that does not contribute much for climate change, and yet we are one of the countries that suffer the most from its impact," Rosário is quoted as saying by the BBC.

 

For UN Representative Coordinator in Malawi Rudolf Schwenk, the devastation caused by the floods is far reaching, needing collective action.

 

“The needs are enormous. The extent of damage is too high and the damage to infrastructure is even greater, so it really is a disaster for the country. We really have to see what we can do to help mitigate the impact of climate change,” says Schwenk, who is also UNICEF Country Representative.


Of concern, according to DODMA, is that these events are now increasing in frequency, scope and gravity, further draining poor countries like Malawi of financial resources that could have been used to lift their people out of poverty.

 

These unpleasant events are occurring at a time when developing countries in the Sub-Saharan region adopted the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which, among others, call on nations—poor or rich—to promote prosperity while protecting the environment and tackling climate change.

 

In 2015, all United Nations member states adopted the SDGs as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.

 

However, Malawi seems to be grappling with the natural disasters, mainly floods, with more resources being channeled towards post-disaster activities.

 

Over the past two decades, according to the Dodma, the country has experienced more than 19 major floods and seven droughts, with these events increasing in frequency, magnitude and scope.

 

In 2019, heavy rains and flooding linked to Cyclone Idai killed 60 people, displaced nearly 87,000 and affected the livelihoods of around 870,000 people in Malawi.

 

Over US$370 million (over K2.7 billion] was needed to cope with the loss and help the vulnerable households.  Education also suffered as schools were shut down in the affected areas.

 

Meanwhile, the World Bank Climate Profile of Malawi states that Malawi is more prone to adverse climate hazards including dry spells, seasonal droughts and floods.

 

Likewise, climate change, according to a 2021 study by Nature Geoscience, is causing an expansion of tropical cyclones, leaving other countries more vulnerable.

 

These changes have major implications for human welfare and threaten to undermine development gains across sectors.

 

This also means that more people are prone to these extreme weather events. And mostly, the poorest and vulnerable communities—both in rural and urban areas—suffer the most.

 

Center for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (CEPA) believes disasters such as floods and droughts are a genuine threat to the advancement of any development agenda and in this case, they pose a very big threat in as far as Malawi’s efforts to attain the SDGs are concerned.

 

CEPA Executive Director, Hebert Mwalukomo, says government and its stakeholders need to work towards reducing the risks that are associated with disasters, reducing loss of life and loss of infrastructure.

 

“We need to minimize all this and we need a solid law that can empower authorities to move communities from flood prone areas to other places considered safe.

 

”We wouldn’t have been in this situation if we had the law in place. Days of focusing on disaster response are gone. We cannot keep on giving people packets of sugar and plastic buckets; that is not sustainable,” says Mwalukomo.

 

In his nation address on environment on 19th October, 2020, Chakwera promised to fast-track and present the Disaster Risk Management Bill “during the next sitting of the National Assembly”.

 

But the Bill is yet to be tabled in Parliament; 10 years after processes were finalized.

 

“The very fact that we missed the Presidential deadline or directive he had given that by February 2021, this Bill should have been passed, it means someone, somewhere is not doing their job and we cannot continue like that,” says Mwalukomo.

 

Zeroing on education, Civil Society for Education Coalition (CSEC) observes that the effects of climate change are depriving learners of their right to education as some classrooms serve as refuge centers.

 

“The net effect of the floods that have happened in the Southern Region raises a serious concern because classes that ought to use such facilities are suspended.

 

“We are depriving learners of their right to education. Their counterparts in other schools are learning yet by the end of the day, especially for examinable classes, they will sit for the same examination,” says Benedicto Kondowe, CSEC Executive Director.

 

Kondowe, therefore, suggests that government should have refuge centers so that when communities are affected they should just be moved straight to these centers.

 

“I think this is particularly applicable for places that are affected by floods every year. We know those places.

“But also in the event that these refuge centers have not already been put up, it would be important that as soon as possible [may be within two days or maximum of five days] the affected communities should be moved from the schools to the tents that are expeditiously put up. If we do that we will also be able to protect the right to education of the learners,” explains Kondowe.

 

Sustainable Development Goal III compels nations to promote well-being for all at all ages. Further to that, Global goal number IV calls for inclusive and equitable quality education, and the need to promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

 

The Malawi 2063, government’s official document and roadmap detailing how exactly Malawi will become a self-reliant nation, aspires to develop systems to break the cycle of environmental degradation and increase resilience. These include integration of disaster risk reduction and financing into sustainable development and planning as well as the promotion of climate change adaptation, mitigation, technology transfer and capacity building for sustainable livelihoods through Green Economy measures.

 

But for now, for Jane and hundreds of children at Bangula Admarc camp in Nsanje alongside several others in rural Africa, the UN SDGs on education, poverty reduction and prosperity, among others, are but a probable luxury for the rich.

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