While our press gets excited about the cyclone in the South Pacific, it continues to ignore the devastation that another small country has been suffering from cyclones and torrential rains for the past two months. Malawi, along with parts of neighbouring Mozambique and Zimbabwe, was hit in January by the most destructive weather that that region has faced in living memory.
Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their homes, their possessions, their animals and their crops, as flooded rivers swept away entire villages. Great swathes of southern Malawi are still under water.
More than a hundred people are known to have died when the cyclonic weather first struck. Ten weeks later (20th March) more than 173,000 displaced people are still crowded in makeshift camps and the death toll continues to rise as water hygiene and sanitation are compromised by the over-crowded conditions. Already, as feared, there have been fresh outbreaks of cholera.
We visited Malawi three years ago and again last September, and have kept in touch with friends we made. So we first heard of the disaster in personal e-mails. On 16th January, our friend Patrick told us, after a week without power: “Here we thank God we are all still alive,” and went on to explain that his house had collapsed, his family had moved in with neighbours – two large households sharing one basic two-room house – and that 85 people in the district had been drowned. While waiting for the rains to ease off and allow rebuilding to start, he has been digging latrines and distributing plastic sheeting as part of the community’s self-help effort.
Another horrific story we were sent was from a young secondary school head-teacher. Ten days ago, just as his relatives were starting to rebuild their house and their lives, his mother and two sisters – trying to salvage what they could of their flattened crops – were attacked by a crocodile lurking in the flood waters. They were ‘rushed’ to hospital along the washed-out and now often bridgeless roads, but all died of their wounds.
For more news of harrowing disaster and heroic relief efforts, we have found the Red Cross website the most useful: http://www.ifrc.org/en/what-we-do/where-we-work/africa/malawi-red-cross-society
Malawi is among the four poorest countries in the world. Its people are used to setbacks, and resilient in the face of disaster. However, those who have now lost everything face a bleak future.
The UK Department for International Development (DIFD) has responded to the Malawi president’s appeal for assistance, and a number of aid agencies are providing emergency food and essential equipment, such as blankets, mosquito nets, medication, cooking pots and tools. However, with so many homeless people in a country much of whose food supplies have been destroyed just before harvest, there will be many months of hardship ahead – and still the wider world seems unaware of what is happening.
Without the publicity usually provided by television crews and headline news, Malawi’s needs are lost in the charities’ lists of needy causes. This seems especially sad for this friendly little country whose people regard Scotland with such affection and still speak of David Livingstone with touching respect.
For more information on Malawi’s plight, here are a few websites of organisations committed to providing very practical help:
Friends of Mulanje Orphans – www.justgiving.com/Malawi-Floods
Students for Malawi (a Scottish charity) – www.justgiving.com/students-for-malawi
And in addition, a coffee morning will be held in Carinish Hall on Saturday 18 April from 10.30-12.30 to raise funds for the victims of Malawi’s floods. Please come if you can.
Tigharry, North Uist