The Southern Region of Malawi received 400% higher rains than usual (compared to the Long Term Mean) causing the Shire River to reach its highest level in 30 years. Heavy rains experienced in the first quarter of 2015 caused flooding in 15 of the 28 districts in Malawi, most of which are located in the southern part of the country. The President declared a state of disaster on 13 January 2015 and appealed for assistance from the international community in managing the disaster and its aftermath.
Assessments were carried out by different agencies including an initial joint assessment by Malawi Red Cross Society (MRCS) and the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA) for the Government of Malawi. Besides this, other assessments were conducted; one by the United Nations Disaster Assessments and Coordination (UNDAC), and the second was an Inter-Agency Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) coordinated by the Ministry of Lands and Housing, the third was a Damage Tracking Matrix (DTM) led by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The MRCS participated in these assessments.
The assessments prioritised a number of districts based on the effects of flooding on livelihoods, displacement of populations and destruction of infrastructure, property and farmlands. It is reported that 230,000 people were displaced (although this figure continued to vary by assessments) and 63,000 hectares of farmlands destroyed. The prioritised districts included Nsanje, with an estimated 74,000 people displaced, Phalombe with about 50,000 people displaced and Chikwawa with an estimated 35,000 people displaced. Other districts included Zomba, Blantyre and Mulanje. Out of this list of prioritised districts, the Red Cross targeted five districts, four to be supported through the emergency appeal (Nsanje, Chikwawa, Phalombe and Blantyre) with a combined total of 8,493 Households (42,130 persons) and the fifth district (Zomba) to be supported by Danish Red Cross through a bilateral funding to Malawi Red Cross Society (MRCS).
The MRCS launched the emergency relief operation with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies(IFRC) with focus on 6 key outcomes: Improving preventive health measures; filling gaps in the provision of water, sanitation and hygiene solutions; helping to bridge the food gaps left by the lost crops and upcoming lean season; helping people to establish safe temporary shelters for their families; support to protection measures including family links and psychosocial support; and improving MRCS own capacity in disaster preparedness and response. Key outcomes include:
8,583 households supported with standard non-food items (NFI) in four districts. In addition, the households received energy saving stoves donated by Habitat for Humanity through MRCS.
350 volunteer carpenters were trained to construct emergency and transitional shelter. These volunteers continue to work on shelter construction, to date 2,286 households (out of targeted 5,200) have benefitted from emergency (in IDP Camps) and transition shelters (in homesteads as camps close).
Training on PASSA (Participatory Approach to Safe Shelter Awareness) of MRCS and government (DoDMA and Department of housing) staff has been concluded. This is a training-of trainers (ToT) training and it is expected that this knowledge and skills acquired will be employed in the construction deliberations during the recovery construction phase.
The Interlocking Soil Stabilization Blocks (ISSB) training of volunteer artisans (14) and Community Development Facilitators (CDFs) (6) commenced on 16 June. The training included an activity where practical blocks are made. The CDFs and artisan will thereafter work with other volunteers from their districts to produce and construct an estimated 200 housing units.
MRCS targeted a total of 34 IDP camps with either temporary shelter supplies or relief. Currently 19 of the camps have now closed, five have partially closed and 10 are still operational.
340 volunteers have been trained on Epidemic Control and Surveillance and are supporting efforts towards controlling the outbreak of cholera. The outbreak, which began with cases imported from Mozambique, has registered 423 cases with six deaths (by Mid-April) and spread across seven districts. MRCS has trained additional volunteers (with UNICEF support) to carry out similar efforts in bordering districts with registered cases, but this is not covered by the appeal funding.
MRCS has completed full rehabilitation of 16 boreholes in three districts. This has been done in supporting efforts for resettlement of IDPs in areas that they were originally displaced from. MRCS is in the process of drilling and equipping an additional 20 boreholes in areas where IDPs will be resettled.
Temporary latrines and bath shelters were constructed in camps and MRCS is continuing with construction of permanent latrines in schools which were used as IDP centres, as the pre-existing latrines were filled up and could not be exhausted due to the soil structure. 44 latrines were exhausted in Blantyre district.
MRCS is in the process of distributing seeds for early maturing crops to address food security in the coming months, especially when the current food pipeline under the emergency and early recovery breaks. Assessments have indicated that large tracts of farmlands were destroyed and submerged by the flooding, and settling debris.
A number of challenges were faced during the initial phase of the operation including delays to the delivery of relief supplies due to damaged major roads (some areas remain cut off to date), and prepositioned relief supplies were insufficient and therefore emergency procurements had to be done. Erratic beneficiary figures made targeting and streamlining operations difficult, and participation of other actors also proved difficult with overlaps regularly reported despite the cluster coordination efforts. A number of donations were made to MRCS by local partners, however most of these did not have logistical support to assist with deliveries and strained the available resources that were required for the delivery of basic humanitarian supplies. The over-reliance of the operation on the existing MRCS staff structure also strained the operation, as there were huge expectations on the already lean staff structure to coordinate delivery of relief supplies, represent the society in district level coordination forums, participate in inter-agency assessments, carry out beneficiary verification prior to delivery of supplies and implement the other on going non-relief programmes. Despite these challenges, the MRCS staff and volunteers demonstrated a high level of commitment and determination to reach all the targeted beneficiaries within a reasonable timeframe. This led to gradual improvement of conditions in camps, which were evidently overcrowded, and the conditions at the time were not conducive for habitation by the large number of IDPs.