JOHANNESBURG, 20 April 2011 (IRIN) - At least 4,600 families in Malawi's northern Karonga district have been affected by flooding since the beginning of April after heavy rain caused a dyke to collapse along the North Rukuru River.
The full extent of flood water damage to crops, homes, sanitation and livelihoods was still unclear, said Atupele Kapile, a humanitarian affairs officer with the UN Resident Coordinator's Office, which has worked with government departments, NGOs and other UN agencies to conduct a rapid assessment of the affected areas.
"Some places were too water-logged to access so we're waiting for more information," she told IRIN.
According to a report summarizing their findings released on 17 April, four lives were lost and 541 homes swept away by the floods. Many more houses were damaged and more than 1,000 hectares of crops lost.
"In terms of crop damage, it's very difficult to say how big the impact will be," said Kapile. "We're recommending an in-depth analysis and assessment, because [those crops] represent food for the next season."
The report notes that root crops such as cassava were likely to be badly affected by water-logging while the flooding of fields of mature maize in some areas would probably lead to "a significant loss in production".
Stagnant water and contaminated water sources resulting from the flooding of latrines have raised fears about outbreaks of diarrhoea and water-borne diseases such as cholera. Kapile said her agency was distributing water treatment materials to families in the affected areas and educating them about the health risks.
Three schools and two churches are serving as temporary shelters for about 340 families and the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA) is distributing food and materials to repair collapsed roofs.
Gift Mafuleka, deputy director of the DoDMA, said farmers whose crops were lost would be provided with inputs such as seeds, fertilizer and irrigation so that they could grow winter crops and, after four or five months, survive without food assistance.
Mafuleka said her department had been told to expect above-average rainfall this year. "But as a department we don't get funding for preparedness, only when a disaster happens."
Many parts of southern Africa have been hit by heavy flooding since December 2010, with northern Namibia, Lesotho, Angola, Mozambique and South Africa among the affected countries.