Real-Time Response Review – DEC programme for Cyclone Idai: Malawi country report

Evaluation and Lessons Learned
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Executive summary

Tropical Cyclone Idai swept through Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe and caused heavy rainfall starting in early March 2019. Based on the expected scale of the crisis, the Government of Malawi declared a State of Disaster in 15 districts in the southern and central regions on 8 March 2019. The cyclone affected 975,000 people and displaced approximately 87,000 people,most of whom found temporary accommodation in evacuation camps and makeshift sites. These however were mostly in schools, which disrupted teaching. The damages were massive: more than 288,000 houses3 were partially or totally destroyed, while physical assets in the agricultural sector were washed away, further increasing the already high food insecurity levels.
DEC allocated appeal funds totalling 2,651,641 GBP to Malawi for Phase 1, out of a total of 14,660,429 GBP4 for the three countries (Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi). The largest sectoral share went to livelihoods (24%), followed by WASH (20%), while 27% was allocated to Cash and Voucher Assistance (CVA) that covered various sectoral outcomes. Nine DEC members responded to the disaster in nine of the 15 Cyclone Idai-affected districts, which were: Nsanje,
Chikwawa, Phalombe, Blantyre, Mulanje, Zomba, Machinga and Mangochi in the south and Balaka in the central part of Malawi.

Relevance and appropriateness

On geographic coverage, the response prioritised those areas most affected by the cyclone. DEC agencies covered areas that had fewer organisations responding, such as Mangochi, Machinga,
Zomba and Phalombe Districts. In particular in traditional authority (TA) Mlolo, Nsanje District where coverage was low due to accessibility constraints, Oxfam responded using boats to reach the targeted populations.
In terms of sectoral priorities, all DEC members reportedly used participatory needs assessments to inform their respective programmes and overall, the DEC members’ prioritisation aligns with the inter-agency assessment. 5 Three out of the nine DEC members contributed to the Government’s Post Disaster Need Assessment (PDNA). Two DEC members also conducted assessments specifically looking at the needs of women: CARE at the regional level6 and Plan International at the country level. 7 A district level needs assessment in Chikwawa that Islamic Relief conducted established that priority needs of the affected people were first food, second shelter and third agricultural inputs and other NFIs such as clothing and beddings. Unsurprisingly, needs prioritisation was highly dependent on the displacement status of the population, as well as the type of settlement in which the intervention was implemented (e.g. camp or not). For example, in camps, households tended to prioritise WASH and health interventions, and as such deemed Save the Children’s mobile clinics in Nsanje highly relevant.
Modality wise, a large portion of assistance was delivered using CVA. The use of CVA was consistently considered by both DEC members and crisis affected people as highly relevant in providing households the necessary flexibility to cover their specific needs.
The comparison between the members’ intended outcomes and planned outputs demonstrates a clear logical link between outputs and results, both across sectors and DEC members. The review team did not find any activities planned that did not logically feed into the intended results.
Informants also agreed that the design of the cyclone response was consistent with the overall goal and objectives.

Effectiveness of the response in achieving its intended outcomes

This response review was mainly qualitative and did not focus on quantitative monitoring and evaluation data. Key informants from DEC agencies and discussions with communities provided qualitative information on the affected communities’ satisfaction with the services they received from DEC members. Feedback from the affected communities during the review indicated that health needs were well addressed through Save the Children’s mobile clinics. Women in TA Tengani in Nsanje who received corn soy blend (CSB) support from Christian Aid also expressed their satisfaction with the visible effects of the CSB on the health status of their children under-5 years old. Livelihood interventions have started, but have not yet produced results. For example, a FGD with male farmers in TA Nkhulambe in Phalombe where Concern Worldwide is implementing a livelihoods intervention stated that they have just replanted seedlings in their gardens and are now waiting for the next harvest. In the WASH sector, informants highlighted the contribution of the pre-existing water point committees as an important factor for the recovery, as volunteers readily carried out water treatment and disinfection across the designated latrine facilities and water points in the camps, as mentioned in TA Benje, Nsanje. However, some camps such as Chagambatuka reported poor sanitation due to overcrowding, which also compromised privacy. In the early stages of the response, Islamic Relief provided shelter support in the evacuation camps of Chikwawa and later provided iron sheets, nails and plastic sheeting as part of the shelter recovery phase. Communities however highlighted that they needed more support for resettlement.
On protections issues, Tearfund and AGE/MANEPO mentioned that they ensured distributions occurred during the day to guarantee the safety of beneficiaries. Save the Children addressed protection issues through awareness campaigns in Zomba and Phalombe Districts using radio jingles, dramas and training sessions for child protection committees. Safe spaces, delivery kits and mobile clinics, even in hard to reach areas, ensured the protection of vulnerable populations such as children, pregnant or lactating women. Similarly, Plan International implemented protection activities amongst the affected population through raising awareness on genderbased violence and providing safe spaces for the youth and children in the displacement camps and communities.
The timeliness of the response was dependent on the location and the modality used. There was a general consensus among the communities that food and WASH interventions were provided in a timely manner (i.e. within the same week of the disaster occurring) in the camps. One of the main factors that contributed to the timeliness of this basic needs support was that organisations were able to use their own core funds to start activities and procurement, and then be reimbursed by DEC afterwards.
Outside of the camps, the timeliness of the response was dependant on the flood water levels.
Some areas were still flooded after the start of the response, while others became flooded during the response. For example, Concern reported they had to wait until the water levels had reduced before doing seed distributions. The quality of the items provided was deemed appropriate, convenient and of good quality by stakeholders and affected communities. These included items such as food aid, corn soya blend (CSB) for children under five years old, drought tolerant seeds, agriculture inputs and equipment, and iron sheets. KIIs mentioned that delays were largely due to procurement processes, as well as the lack of availability of skilled labour to support WASHrelated artisan work.
Key informants mentioned that the flexibility of DEC funding was instrumental for programmes to be sufficiently adaptable and agile to respond to changes and act quickly. The pre-existing presence of long-term development projects and knowledge among three of the nine DEC members were one of the key success factors of the response.

Accountability to affected population

All DEC members have agreed on an Accountability Framework. 8 As part of their organisational commitments towards accountability, DEC members are using the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability (CHS) to improve the quality and effectiveness of the assistance provided. This helps to ensure the timeliness of support and continuous communication, feedback and address mechanisms, while also using learning to improve and adjusting interventions accordingly.

Sustainability and connectedness of the response

Due to their historical presence in Malawi, DEC members were able to draw on their knowledge of the country’s long-term needs to design an emergency response that was linked to a longterm plan. This was especially highlighted by affected households and local authorities who noted the added value of DEC members’ longer-term presence when compared to others that “come in for the emergency response and go.”

Coordination and complementarity

In Malawi, the response is coordinated by the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA). DEC members all participated in coordination meetings, and also informally shared information amongst themselves to prevent their interventions from overlapping in the same district or camps. This resulted in their activities being to a great extent complementary and creating bilateral synergies.


The cyclone response presented unique challenges: physical access was difficult in the first few days and infrastructure destruction hampered communication. Overall, DEC members’ response to Cyclone Idai can be a considered a success, in so far that DEC provided a flexible source of funds that allowed members to adapt their responses quickly to changing circumstances, address the most relevant needs of the targeted communities, and build accountability to affected populations into the response.
The Phase 1 response to the Idai Cyclone in Malawi presents a great opportunity to strengthen the humanitarian-development nexus and to operationalise the New Way of Working. The longlasting presence of DEC members in Malawi is an asset that can be built upon so that crisisaffected households not only get back on their feet, but are also integrated into longer term resilience projects. With a high likelihood of another disaster (drought or flood) occurring in the future, preparing would help strengthen the gains made in this response and potentially protect people from the worst effects of another crisis.


  1. DEC members should aim to jointly plan and design Phase 2, building on longer term programmes aimed at reducing needs and future risks while building resilience.

  2. Early recovery designs should consider the environment and incorporate Building Back Better and Greener in their activities through mapping out the potential effects.

  3. Assess the extent to which humanitarian cash assistance can build on existing social protection schemes.

  4. DEC members need to be cash ready and ensure unconditional, unrestricted cash assistance is the default option.

  5. DEC members need to be aware of local markets and aim to support value chains in longterm programmes.

  6. DEC members should advocate with the Government of Malawi to establish emergency evacuation centres in flood prone areas.

  7. DEC members should use the membership as an opportunity for learning, conducting joint risk assessments and exploring better programme design alignment.

  8. Agencies should use multiple methods of getting feedback from communities based on communities’ preferences and needs.

  9. Agencies should ensure they make market monitoring an integral element of their regular monitoring frameworks.