JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, 28 January 2015 — UNFPA and its partners are working to provide humanitarian relief to hundreds of thousands of people who are in urgent need of assistance following widespread flooding in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. More than 760,000 people have been affected by the floods in wide regions across the three countries and an estimated 226,000 have been forced from their homes.
To date, 143 people have died and many more are missing. An estimated 2500 Mozambican refugees have entered Malawi, some of whom have already been repatriated. Many remain cut off from critical services in the affected regions.
The UN launched its response almost immediately the flooding began by distributing pre-positioned relief supplies in the affected areas. UNFPA is working with health and protection authorities to provide public health advice and support, ensure public health authorities do surveillance, and address sexual and reproductive health needs including HIV prevention and treatment, and prevention of sexual violence.
Women and girls in particular are badly affected.
Malawi severely affected
Extensive flooding and heavy damage to life and property has been reported mainly across the southern parts of Malawi. About 638,000 people (including an estimated 330,000 women and 108,000 youth) have been affected and more than 170,000 people have been displaced in 15 out of 28 districts. A total of 79 deaths have been reported and about 153 people are still missing. An estimated 63,500 houses have been submerged by flood waters. More rains and flooding are forecast, including for areas not yet affected.
Road networks have been washed away in some of the affected districts, hampering the accessibility of health facilities and other public services. The roofs and infrastructure of some health facilities have been damaged. Many of the displaced families are being housed in relocation camps established by the government and managed by Civil Protection Committees. A total of 15 camps have been set up in Nsanje and 7 in Chikwawa. There is an urgent need for health and hygiene materials for those affected. Menstrual hygiene is of particular concern, considering the limited sanitary facilities in the camps. Cases of violence have been reported in the camps.
UNFPA’s response in Malawi
About 315 visibly pregnant women were identified in the three worst affected districts of Nsanje, Chikwawa and Phalombe. Between 10 and 24 January, 88 deliveries were recorded by 62 camps in these. Twenty-four of these deliveries were among adolescents aged between 15 and 19 years, as reported from Phalombe, where fertility rates and teenage pregnancies are generally high.
Women living in camps for displaced people are fearful of gender-based violence, including rape and other types of sexual abuse. Several cases of gender-based violence have already been reported. In one of the districts, a total of 124 cases were brought to the attention of authorities. The design of the camps and the positioning of toilets are said to be contributing to these cases. A woman from Bangula camp said: “The toilets are far away from where we are sleeping. We are afraid to walk to the toilets at night for fear of being raped. If the toilets could be located close by, this could assist us.”
Personal dignity and hygiene is a major challenge for women and young people, especially for adolescent girls. A teenager from Tchereni camp in Malawi said: “I lost everything during the floods. My biggest challenge is how to manage my menstrual cycle.” It has been reported that women and girls are sharing sanitary materials, which seriously compromises their health and dignity.
In order to address the sexual and reproductive health needs of affected populations, UNFPA Malawi has recruited and deployed full time Reproductive Health and Gender Coordinators to support the authorities with the management of SRH/HIV and gender-based violence (GBV) issues in the camps. UNFPA has also distributed pre-positioned Reproductive Health kits as well as drugs and medical equipment to cater for clean deliveries, including by Caesarean section, and related complications of pregnancy and child birth in six districts and two central hospitals in the flood-affected areas.
Over 300 prepositioned dignity kits were distributed and 2000 more have been procured, over half of which have already been distributed to women of child-bearing age in some of the most affected districts to allow the women to continue to live with dignity in their state of crisis. The kits include ‘kitenges’ to allow the women to cover their bodies as per custom, as well as personal hygiene supplies and a bucket to enable them to collect water where it is made available. Recently, UNFPA handed over to the Ministry of Health a consignment of life-saving drugs, including antibiotics and IV fluids worth about $600,000. The needs remain enormous and resources are scarce, however.
Over 120,000 affected in Mozambique
Heavy rains in the central and northern regions of Mozambique have affected more than 120,000 people. In Zambézia Province, six health centres and 51 bridges have been destroyed, which has impacted on people’s ability to seek health services. About 95,000 people have been affected and more than 50,000 of them are being housed in 49 accommodation centres. Among them are hundreds of pregnant women and newborn babies requiring urgent medical services.
Response in Mozambique
UNFPA Mozambique is working with the Health Cluster in Mocuba to support the mapping of pregnant women, to facilitate the provision of assistance and health care to them. To date, 48 pregnant women, two of whom are close to delivery, have been identified and referred to a rural hospital. UNFPA is providing family planning counselling and has distributed more than 2000 condoms in Mocuba camp, which hosts about 6000 displaced people. UNFPA is currently procuring reproductive health kits and dignity kits to be distributed in the affected areas.
Widespread flooding in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe has experienced continuous heavy rainfall since December, with widespread flooding causing damage to infrastructure and property. About 6000 people have been affected and 2500 people are in urgent need of assistance. The rain has left hundreds of families in low-lying areas stranded after their homes were washed away by floodwaters, with the worst affected areas being Mashonaland West and Central.
UNFPA’s response in Zimbabwe
While relief work has begun in the affected areas, there is still an urgent need to provide health and hygiene materials to those affected. UNFPA Zimbabwe is to deploy a rapid assessment team to the worst affected areas to assess urgent reproductive health needs. Contingency funds will be made available for the response. The Fund is to procure hygiene kits similar to those supplied to the Tokwe Mukosi flood victims, as well as Reproductive Health kits for pregnant women.