Malawi Floods: Loss in time of Rescue

Malawi Floods: Loss in time of Rescue

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Innocent Mbvundula

“It was at midnight when we heard a roaring sound and quickly we noticed that the house was filling with water. In no time the water was knee-high and I immediately decided to climb to the roof top of the house with my two children, Manesi and Marita. I heard people screaming in the neighborhood. Some were climbing trees but we climbed on the roof top of our grass thatched house,” recounts Grace Lawrence, a 20-year-old woman from Nyachikanda village who is also eight months pregnant, on experiencing the devastating floods in Malawi.

When the floods came, Grace’s husband was in Mozambique on a business trip. She was left with her two children, Manesi and Marita. As she eagerly waits to reunite with her husband, she tries to come to terms with life without their 3-year-old daughter Marita, who went missing at the time of rescue.

“The rescuers came with boats. It was a quick rescue operation. Everyone was scrambling to go into the boat. Later when I looked around, I noticed that Marita was missing. I was sure that she died. Had my husband been there, I think we couldn’t have lost Marita,” said Grace.

Floods have, for many people of Nsanje, become a normal annual occurrence, but the scale of this year’s floods are unprecedented. Traveling from the Malawi's commercial city of Blantyre to Nsanje at the southern tip of Malawi, one is greeted by the sorry sight of damaged houses, acres of land where the crops have been washed away; and men, women and children in dire need of basic amenities in various evacuation centers. All this is as a result of floods that have left over 50 people, including numerous children, dead in the district.

For Mathews Damiano of Brighton village in traditional authority Mbenje, life will never be the same. The floods happened at a time when his business was growing from strength to strength. From a humble beginning, his vegetable and fruit business grew steadily to become a reliable source of income. Today, a family that had become self-sufficient is now at the Bangula evacuation center destitute.

In a matter of days, the house he and his wife, Elube, labored to build is but rubble as a result of the floods. He lost all his property including a store house located near their house. At the time of destruction, the store house had merchandise worth over $100 in it, which is a substantial loss to this rural business.

“It will take us some time to recover from this damage. It took us years of hard work to build our house and the store house. We don’t know what to do now,” says Mathews.

The needs of displaced people are many. As one official put it; ‘the reality is life in a camp can’t be the same as at home’. Pregnant women, lactating mothers and women with children under 5-years-old living in camps have expressed the need for a balanced diet but food is in short supply, at least in some camps.

One thing that is clear is that in the weeks before the floods occurred many people defied warnings of impending heavy rains. The office of the District Commissioner in Nsanje, following predictions from meteorological department, had requested people to move upland, a call that has been made persistently for many years. As they did with similar warnings in the past, many of them ignored the warning and now wish they hadn’t.

In traditional authority Mlolo, all public services have been suspended. Health centers and schools are submerged in water. Access to the area is only possible by helicopter and boats, making it difficult to reach the affected households. Listening to those impacted, especially women, it is clear this is a tragedy that they will never forget.

“I will live to remember this experience for the rest of my life. We have experienced floods here, but not of this magnitude. We lost all valuable items that were in the house. We didn’t have time to collect them. We lost food, clothes, kitchen utensils and everything,” shared Grace.

She continues, “Of all the losses from these floods, the loss of my daughter is the most painful one. I can’t believe that I will never see my daughter again. I wish I saw her, even if it means only seeing her dead body.”

By Innocent Mbvundula, CARE Communications Advisor in Malawi


© Photo: Innocent Mbvundula/CARE