Malawi floods devastation far worse than first thought
Nearly a quarter of a million people, more than originally thought, have been affected by the devastating floods that ripped through Malawi a month ago, and with rains still falling, many of the 230,000 who were forced to flee their homes have been unable to return and rebuild their lives, the UN said.
The UN children’s agency, Unicef, said new figures from the UN and the government of Malawi showed the number of people displaced stood at 230,000, compared with an original estimate of 174,000. About 64,000 hectares (158,147 acres) of land were damaged, it added.
The scale of the disaster has wreaked havoc on the densely populated country, where most people survive from subsistence farming. Crops of maize have been destroyed, villages obliterated, homes swept away and livestock killed.
In mid-January, President Peter Mutharika declared half the country a disaster zone and estimated it would cost 23.9bn kwacha ($51m) to repair the damage.
Unicef said 276 people had been killed or were missing, while 645 people had been injured.
“With these new numbers, and while prioritising additional severely affected districts, we need to take stock of our response to ensure all children and families have access to emergency services and supplies,” said Mahimbo Mdoe, Unicef’s representative in Malawi.
“We are carefully monitoring how displaced children are faring, as we know, after one month in crowded camps, disease outbreaks and increased malnutrition can occur,” he said.
About 47% of Malawi’s children are already stunted, which is caused by undernutrition, so they are particularly vulnerable.
Unicef has launched a $9.3m appeal to cover its emergency response for three months.
The agency is concerned about possible outbreaks of cholera, dysentery and malaria as well as the risk of malnutrition. About 56,000 women and children have received healthcare in the camps, and at Unicef-supported government clinics. A total of 287 children have been admitted for treatment for severe malnutrition.
“Unicef is working closely with the government and NGO partners to install enough water and sanitation facilities to keep waterborne diseases at bay, critical for the survival of young children,” said Mdoe.
“One month in, we are on target, but with these new numbers we need to look at scaling up services again to cover these additional prioritised districts. We already have a $3.8m funding gap, and that’s likely to increase as we move into recovery phase,” Mdoe added.
With support from Britain’s Department for International Development (DfID), the EU and USAid, Unicef is working to provide sanitation and clean water, as many water sources have been contaminated.
Many of those forced from their homes have taken refuge in schools, disrupting education for around 350,000 pupils. Unicef is providing tents so that the schools can set up temporary learning spaces while still offering accommodation to families at night.
Last week, the UN’s food agency said it was scaling up its food distribution in Malawi, adding that more resources were urgently required to fill a funding gap.
The World Food Programme is delivering maize, beans, vegetable oil and super cereal, a flour fortified with vitamins and minerals. It has also provided 28 tonnes of high-energy biscuits to people in the hard-hit and remote Chikwawa and Nsanje districts. It requires about $19m for its operations in Malawi.
By the end of January, the agency had been able to reach nearly 210,000 people with more than 1,500 tonnes of food assistance in eight districts.
At the UN, member states were urged not to allow other global humanitarian crises to prevent them from supporting a full recovery in Malawi.
“While we may not be able to prevent disasters from taking place, we can do much more to mitigate their impact on people and economies,” Denis Antoine, vice-president of the general assembly, told members last week.
Northern and central regions of neighbouring Mozambique have also been hit by flooding that has affected around 160,000 people and entire communities. Unicef said the flooding had cut off roads, disrupted power supply and destroyed bridges, houses and schools.
The Indian Ocean island of Madagascar has also been affected. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) said in an update last week that Madagascar had received double its average rainfall since early January. This, coupled with the effects of tropical storm Chedza on 16 January, had left 74 people dead and displaced 20,000 people.
Ocha said that pre-positioned relief supplies were almost exhausted, and this was a concern as there were reports of drought in the south of the island. The peak of the cyclone season is expected in February and March.