As flood waters submerge much of southern Malawi‚ villagers fleeing to makeshift displacement camps by boat‚ foot and helicopter are confronted by fresh adversities: thirst‚ hunger and the threat of disease.
The government says at least 176 people have been killed and about 200 000 have been driven from their homes in January by Malawi’s worst floods on record.
Japan‚ Canada and South Africa are among countries that have sent money or emergency teams.
Relief efforts in the nation have been hampered by incessant rain‚ a shortage of funds and a lack of roads and other infrastructure.
“We received only a basin of flour to feed 75 people‚” Agnes Kamiza‚ a mother of five‚ said at a camp at Tidzora‚ 80km west of the commercial capital‚ Blantyre.
Kamiza made her way there after her home in the southern Chikwawa district was swamped. “If we don’t receive more flour‚ that will be our only meal for the day.”
More than 550 people have taken shelter at Tidzora‚ and their ranks are swelling. The first to arrive shared a small‚ tick-infested warehouse‚ sleeping on sacks or on the floor. The situation has improved in the past two weeks‚ since the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) erected tents.
Sanitation poses an even bigger problem than shelter at the camp‚ with residents sharing just three toilets and a single bathroom before local charity Goal Malawi and Unicef installed 25 pit latrines.
“The situation was appalling‚ faeces were all over the place‚” said Winston Chilonga‚ an engineer with Goal Malawi. “The people had been rescued from the floods‚ but were sitting on a ticking bomb of a cholera outbreak.”
While living conditions have improved for the residents of the Tidzora camp‚ hunger is a constant companion and the challenge of getting enough to eat has been compounded by a lack of cooking facilities.
“We lost everything to the floods‚” said Ruth Jack‚ a mother of four. “I came here to the camp with nothing and just received two plates and a single pot.”
Prior to the floods‚ almost half of the children in Chikwawa were stunted because they didn’t get enough to eat. That situation is now deteriorating‚ said John Mugawa‚ the district’s nutrition coordinator. “We are currently‚ with support from Unicef‚ screening child malnutrition‚” he said. “Three to four children out of five have moderate malnutrition‚ while one in five has severe malnutrition.”
Besides the physical discomfort‚ flood victims also have to contend with the anxiety of being separated from relatives and friends.
“We left my dad trapped in the waters in my village‚” said Mavuto Kalu‚ who took refuge in the Tidzora camp. “I left with my mother and six other relatives in a canoe.”
His father didn’t have enough money to pay the cost of transporting their extended family to safety‚ so he stayed behind with 15 relatives.
-Frank Jomo and Mike Cohen