Planning for a disaster in Malawi

MalawiFloods.jpgCharting the road ahead - (IRIN) - The state of preparedness for a natural disaster in Malawi's flood-prone areas as well as other locales is coming under intense scrutiny ahead of the expected annual rise in the rivers during the rainy season.

The seven areas usually affected by flooding are the districts of
Chikwawa and Nsanje, along the lower Shire River, the southern district
of Mangochi, the central districts of Salima and Dedza and the northern
districts of Karonga and Mzimba.But the dangers of flash flooding in areas not thought of as high-risk
cannot be discounted. After prolonged rains in 1991, more than 1,000
people died in a flash flood in Phalombe district, in southern Malawi.

Annual programmes to teach people living in potentially dangerous
flood-prone or low-lying areas to move to higher ground often meet with
cultural intransigence.

One villager in the Lower Shire Valley said: "We cannot leave the land
that was given to us by our ancestors. We buried them here, we will
also be buried here, and here is where we cultivate our crops."
James Chiusiwa, Malawi’s Coordinator for Disaster Preparedness, Relief
and Rehabilitation in the Department of Poverty and Disaster Management
Affairs (DoPDMA), said the government was preparing contingency plans,
in cooperation with a host of local and international organisations.
"We have involved everyone from government officials to humanitarian
organisations and local non-governmental organisations. We are holding
meetings with district commissioners from the seven districts that are
affected every year, to see how better we can plan before floods wreak
havoc," he told IRIN.
A meeting to draw on past lessons is planned with various stakeholders in late November in the capital, Lilongwe.
"The government of Malawi, with support from the United Nations and its
non-governmental organisations partners, is in the process of refining
its national contingency plan to prepare for the upcoming flood
season," Elias Mabaso, of the Regional Office for the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for Southern Africa, told IRIN.
A study, in partnership with the World Bank, is being conducted in one
of Malawi’s most flood-prone areas, the Shire River Valley, to "look at
both preparedness and mitigation measures, and assist in the
development of a disaster risk reduction strategy for the whole Lower
Shire Valley," Chiusiwa said. "We want to take a step further and move
beyond responding to catastrophes every year."
OCHA’s Mabaso said: "Government led an effective response to last
year’s flooding, which saved lives due to disaster preparedness. This
year, we are supporting the government to revise its contingency plan,
based on current meteorological indications that Malawi will be
receiving normal to above normal rainfall for most of the coming
"This could mean that more people, livestock and infrastructural damage
could occur. The revision of the contingency plan will build on last
year’s success, to be even better prepared," he said.

Assessing risk

Malawi’s disaster contingency plan assesses risks such as floods,
drought and epidemics, by developing various scenarios, ranging from
best-case to worst-case, for each risk.

"For example, if a flood occurs and 300,000 people are affected, it
will include things such as search and rescue, [and] where [the flood
victims] will be moved to temporarily," Mabaso said.

"In these temporary accommodation centres, which organisations are
responsible for food or medicine? Most importantly, it identifies the
roles and responsibilities of each organisation during the emergency,
and when these actions will be taken," he said.
In July 2008 the European Commission provided €5m (US$6.3 million) for
disaster preparedness in Mozambique, Madagascar, Malawi and the
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
(IFRC) told IRIN that disaster preparedness was the core focus in terms
of disaster management.
Increasingly, our global focus is driven by the concept of ‘early
warning, early action’. We make resources and personnel available
before a disaster hits, drawing on the state-of-the-art monitoring
systems we have access to
"Increasingly, our global focus is driven by the concept of ‘early
warning, early action’. We make resources and personnel available
before a disaster hits, drawing on the state-of-the-art monitoring
systems we have access to through partnerships with various
meteorological and academic institutions," said Matthew Cochrane, IFRC
communications manager for southern Africa.
"We now aim to take these warnings and relay them down to community
levels where people, having received training by the Red Cross and
other organisations, can disseminate the information and the take
appropriate action."
Cochrane said a case in point was Mozambique, where floods claimed
hundreds of lives and left thousands of people marooned in 2001. "This
year [2008], because of the tireless work of organisations such as the
Mozambique Red Cross, no one died, and hundreds of thousands of people
were effectively evacuated before the water became too high; an
unquestionable success that now needs to be replicated in other
flood-prone countries."
The IFRC in southern Africa has been working on a Zambezi River Basin
Initiative, a cross-border programme that aims to strengthen the
resilience of communities living along the Zambezi River.
Cochrane said the IFRC was developing community-based early warning,
pre-positioning essential relief supplies, and training volunteers to
effectively respond to floods and other disasters.
"We will also be looking at how it can support communities to better
withstand disasters, what information and skills they need to be able
to overcome this annual problem, or even capitalise on it," he said.
"Remember, not too long ago in this region’s history, annual floods
were seen as positive because they left fertile soil, for example. How
can we support people to rediscover this kind of experience?"
The Malawi Red Cross Society been training local people to monitor
water levels and predict the chances of flooding, but a funding
shortfall has meant that training could only be carried out in one

Themes: (IRIN) Early Warning, (IRIN) Environment, (IRIN) Natural Disasters


Post published in: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *