Early recovery key to Malawi flood victim’s survival

Feb 4, 2015

In a primary school in Nsanje, Southern Malawi, children have given up their classrooms and school yard for over 500 displaced families who fled the devastating floods that hit the poor African nation in January.

More rain is expected in the country, which has already seen over 370,000 people affected and in need of assistance for food, water and shelter.

The school’s principal, Jimmy Mbamera arrives each day, not to teach his 1000 students but to observe and monitor the camp that he said will have lasting impacts on the school and its ability to provide education for the children.

“I’m worried about his school when all the IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons) have left,” he said. “The damage to the school, desks and latrines, will be considerable.”

With a look of resignation he observed the trees planted in the schools grounds. “We were teaching the children the importance of trees to protect the environment. Our trees are now being used for firewood by the IDPs,” he said. “I know it has to be that way but who will help us replant the trees?”

Malawi is regularly hit by floods and droughts. This requires emergency responses of varying size each year. This year, according to the UN News Service, flooding has caused displacement of over 170,000 people, while an estimated 116,000 households have lost their crops and livestock. In Nsanje district alone, 79 people are confirmed dead with another 153 people still missing.

One group arrived at Jimmy’s school, traumatized, exhausted and hungry after their houses were submerged by water and croplands destroyed. After days without food, the refuge of the school and something to eat and drink were lifesaving.

A United Nations (UN) wide effort has been launched to support those in need and mitigate the potential risks of disease and food shortages. In addition to the important work provided by the World Food Program (WFP), World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in airlifting supplies and providing clean water and sanitation, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other agencies are poised to help in early recovery efforts.

Ensuring livelihood, economic and social recovery – reestablishing schools such as Jimmy Mbamere’s – is crucial.

In a briefing to UN Member States on the situation in Malawi, Magdy Martinez-Soliman, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director for the Bureau for Policy and Programme Support said, "Disaster management and early responses need to be accompanied, immediately, by good technical assistance so that when the time comes, we build back better.”

“UNDP will do its part to support OCHA’s leadership in the assistance to the Government of Malawi,” he added.

UN Resident Coordinator Mia Seppo, who also serves as the UNDP Resident Representative in the country, said it is a priority for the government to move the displaced people out of school buildings and children back to school.

But this requires site planning, water and sanitation, and more tents delivered to very remote areas. While the focus, for now, is on life saving, planning has started for early recovery efforts.

“UNDP is already planning early recovery and has put in place an adviser who will engage with the government and other UN agencies to ensure a comprehensive early recovery strategy,” said Seppo. “The time is right for this early planning.”

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