Flood victims in Malawi are receiving an outpouring of humanitarian assistance in the wake of the deluge that has devastated the region in the last month, leaving thousands dead and homeless. Forecasters predict the rains will continue putting many more people at risk of being forced from their homes and signaling further casualties to come. Area residents fear that the floods will spell doom for their crops this year causing a food shortage. The torrential flow of water also carries the danger of water-borne diseases. With the perils facing the citizens of Malawi and their Mozambican neighbors downstream, the Malawian government issued a call for international help this week, declaring a disaster area covering approximately one-third of their territory.
Several bridges have collapsed, limiting escape routes for many. Over a thousand flood victims were stranded on high ground in the south and had to be evacuated by military helicopters and boats. Silt and debris clogged the operations at two out of five of Escom’s power stations, the country’s only source of electrical power, causing shutdowns and electricity shortages. The African Union understands the urgency of the people’s plight and is putting humanitarian assistance for Malawi on a status of highest priority. As the swollen waters flow downstream into Mozambique, at least 38 people are dead in that country as well. Although flooding is a recurring problem in this area of Africa and many disaster preparedness plans are in place, the severity of this deluge quickly outstripped officials’ ability to respond effectively in a timely manner to prevent further tragedy.
Vice President Saulos Chilima published the entreaty for compassionate aid for the flood victims ravaged by the rising waters. Several agencies are responding to the appeal, bringing in ready-to-eat food supplies for those uprooted from their homes and cut off from cooking devices in the 15 disaster-stricken districts identified by President Peter Mutharika. /moo-TAH-ree-kah/ Temporary housing for the displaced, medical care and sanitation are also in great demand as the country struggles to assist with the overwhelming needs of such a large segment of their population.
The United Nations World Food Program has a project in motion to airlift enough food to the flood-stricken southern African country to feed 77,000 people or more. Doctors Without Borders is setting up tents for the homeless, according to the organization’s leader in Malawi, Amaury Gregoire. He expresses concern that the unsanitary conditions left by the muddy and contaminated waters leave the already distressed victims susceptible to typhoid, dysentery and cholera infections carried by the flood currents. Malawi has also received relief assistance from South African medical personnel, divers and military helicopters.
With many hospitals and clinics in Malawi and Mozambique compromised and people cut off from receiving medical care by the inundation and separated from critical drugs swept away in the flood, including children’s vaccinations and HIV medications necessary to combat the African AIDS epidemic, the healthcare system could be overloaded. The resulting chaos could precipitate a medical crisis of epic proportions. President Mutharika classifies the floods as a nationwide catastrophe that makes the prompt activation of both local and international assistance efforts for the flood victims absolutely indispensable.
By Tamara Christine Van Hooser
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Image courtesy of The Humanitarian Coalition – Flickr License