Before the rainy season, the warnings are numerous. It is either there will be little rain or too much rain. These extreme weather events are not unusual. In the face of a changing climate, there is need to learn how to cope especially because a lot of people are prone to these extreme weather events.
In 2019, heavy rains which led to floods linked to Cyclone Idai killed 60 people, displaced nearly 87,000 and affected the livelihoods of around 870,000 people in Malawi. To cope with this loss and help the vulnerable households, the amount needed was USD 370 million [about K2.7 billion, enough to construct nearly 10 secondary schools—going by the cost of the recently constructed K215 million Luviri Secondary School in Rumphi district.
Education also suffered as schools were shut down in the affected areas; businesses stalled and the already struggling health sector faced challenges to deliver.
Schools were turned into camps. Image-Internet.
Already, 56 year-old Marita Malivasi, from the area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Katunga in Chikwawa district, is worried with the weather forecast showing most parts of the country particularly the Southern and Central regions are going to receive heavy rains.
Malivasi says in 2019, she lost her home, crops and livestock to heavy rains and floods. She is yet to recover from that destruction.
“Water destroyed our house. We would have loved to construct something better but we do not have enough money. We had goats and chickens. All the goats were washed away by the water and only six chickens miraculously survived. The floods reduced me and my family to nothing. All my property was damaged,” recalls Malivasi, a mother of five.
Counting the losses
These events are occurring at a time when the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are calling 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.
The universal call also emphasizes that development must balance social, economic and environmental sustainability.
However, Malawi seems to be grappling with the natural disasters, mainly floods, with more resources being channeled towards post disaster activities.
Over the past decades, according to the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma), Malawi has experienced more than 19 major floods and seven droughts, with these events increasing in frequency, magnitude and scope.
In the last four years alone, total losses and damages have been estimated at US$921 million, while recovery and reconstruction needs amounted to close to US$1.4 billion.
Affected households require relief items: Image-Internet.
This, according to Executive Director for Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (CEPA) Hebert Mwalukomo, calls for implementation of risk reduction strategies both at national and local levels, to save lives, livelihoods and build a more-resilient nation.
Mwalukomo claims that the country has an umbrella framework, which is supposed to be guiding resilient building actions in various sectors like agriculture, social protection and areas of disaster risk management and forest and catchment management.
These strategies, linked to and built on various policy frameworks existing in the respective sectors, include the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy II (MGDS II); National Disaster Risk Management Policy; National Agriculture Policy; Agriculture Sector Wide Approach; Malawi National Social Support Programme; Post Disaster Needs Assessment Report and the National Water Policy.
CEPA Executive Director, Herbert Mwalukomo
“Those areas are not really functioning as they should, because we have not used that framework in terms of budgetary allocation, but also planning. While we have these strategies, we seem not to use the framework and that’s why until today, we still talk about resources being allocated only for other recurrent transactions especially at district level where these disasters occur,” Mwalukomo says.
He observes that it is high time Malawi moved a step further by ensuring that all supporting modalities including National Disaster Risk Management Bill—which has been outstanding for quite some time, were enacted and fully utilized.
President Dr. Lazarus Chakwera recognizes the challenges that must be addressed. He has committed to invest more in strategies that will help in mitigating the risks of natural disasters rather than spending a lot of money in relief activities after a disaster.
According to Chakwera, Malawi loses forest cover at an alarming rate of 32,000 hectares every year, risking the nation to more natural disasters.
Chakwera, apart from committing to establishing a taskforce to coordinate efforts to environmental management, says his administration would ensure that the National Disaster Risk Management Bill is enacted.
Chakwera: We must save our natural invironment.
“The homelessness caused by Cyclone Idai or the outbreak of diseases like Cholera and Covid-19 due to poor sanitation occasioned by poor management of water resources. These examples demonstrate how integral natural resources are to our well-being,” Chakwera says.
He observes that if not immediately attended to, the adverse effects can defeat the country’s quest for economic growth, hence the need for drastic measures to reverse the situation.
“We must save our natural environment for two reasons. As a nation, we cannot keep our date with destiny without settling our debt with nature. When we say our destiny is Malawi tsopano wokomera tonse, we mean Malawi with bumper harvest of maize, millet, rice, groundnuts, tobacco, tea, beans and vegetables, among others.
“So we cannot reach this destiny without fixing the degradation of our soils that make our farming possible. We cannot reach destiny without protecting our woods and forests that sustains the rain cycle that waters our crops every year,” asserts Chakwera.
Chakwera admits that while he wants to see every home having clean tap water not only for cooking, washing but also irrigation, this destiny cannot be attained without stopping the pollution of the rivers that make access to clean water possible.
“We cannot reach this destiny without making water conservation as daily as water consumption,” he adds.
Talk less, act more
However, CEPA Executive Director dares the government to walk the talk by, among others, enacting the National Disaster Risk Management Bill.
“We are glad that now the new government is talking about taking the Bill to Parliament. Our hope is that this should not be a lip service. We should really see the Bill being passed.
“But even that, it will not be an end in itself because we will need to operationalize what the Act says, including having dedicated basket of fund for not just responding to disasters but even preparing for disasters and ensuring that we build the infrastructure, but also manage the catchment which, when we do, we should be able to avoid and mitigate against some of the floods which occur year in year out,” says Mwalukomo.
However, the Movement for Environmental Action (MEAC) observes that the process to building communities’ resiliency is very slow with disaster risk reduction interventions facing financing challenges.
MEAC Interim Leader Mathews Malata claims in the past, there were no clear strategies to guide investment in disaster risk reduction sector until recently when the national resilience Strategy, Disaster Financing Strategy and the disaster risk management policy were put in place.
“It seems we are getting there as a country because previous initiates were not well coordinated and this why we have not seen much in as far building community resilience is concerned The issue has been the adherence to the guidelines which are there, such as construction guidelines, building codes and standards, which are supposed to be followed but adherence to the same has been an issue,” says Malata.
Mathews Malata, Interim leader of MEAC.
He further says moving people staying in flood prone areas upland has always been an issue because of some factors and that pose another challenge in as far as the country’s efforts to build resiliency of communities are concerned.
Malata believes that the new law will help reverse the situation as it will give government some power to move such people by force and find some alternative place for them.
“We have been focusing so much on response and not disaster risk reduction. Response is generally kind of reactive and takes away a lot money and we have not been budgeting for disaster risk reduction interventions or investments.
“So, unless we sort out that issue, then we can hardly address these challenges,” asserts Malata.
According to him, 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 attaining the SDGs or the Malawi Growth and Development strategy targets and the Covid-19 has just made things worse.
Children were equally rendred homeless.
At the global level, Malawi is a party to the Sendai Framework Convention on Climate Change which was hatched in 2015. Some targets in this framework are to reduce the disaster mortality and disaster losses—economic losses when disasters occur.
“Looking at economic losses in general and incidents that have been happening in Malawi, we are yet to reduce the number of people usually affected by the floods. We are yet to reduce the number of houses or infrastructure that gets damaged when these floods occur.
“So, we still have a long way to go because each and every time we experience floods, we register huge economic losses,” he says.
He stresses need for more investment in the disaster risk reduction sector, saying disaster risk financing is crucial in disaster risk reduction management.
The environmental activist further says farmers should also be encouraged to transfer the risks to insurance companies so that whenever they experience droughts or floods, they can get compensated.
“We must intensify irrigation programmes so that if they have challenges to harvest what they expected during the normal rainy season, they can always recover during the dry period and with proper markets for their produce, they can have some income that can keeping them going for some time.
“All we need is clear prioritization of what we want to do as a country, finance activities as laid out in our development blue print, and then if we implement them, we are going to make the progress we all want to see. But if we don’t provide finance, if we don’t prioritize and if we don’t implement what we have laid out in the strategies, I think it will be very hard to attain most of the SDGs or Malawi Growth and Development Strategy targets,” says Malata.
Chairperson for Village Civil Protection Committee (VCPC) in T/A Katunga in Chikwawa, Cosmas Kholowa notes that it is difficult to respond to any disaster unless good preparedness measures are put in place, saying community structures require capacity building support.
Kholowa says VCPCs and other community structures should be fully engaged in the implementation of risk management activities claiming that they have human capital, but need support.
However, he says VCPCs are mostly used in the assessment and provision of detailed disaggregated data to enable stakeholders plan for the response accordingly and also planting trees and grass, disseminating warning messages, distribution of relief items and coordination of recovery activities.
“For Instance, we do create the village contingency plans and village action plans but implementation has always been a problem due to financial resources. Communities are aware of a need to build a dike and can provide labour, but resources put them off. There is a need for external inputs. Capacity building in disaster risk reduction management and climate adaptation is also needed,” Kholowa says.