It’s been just over a month since the world was stunned by images of destruction wreaked on Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe by Cyclone Idai: burst riverbanks; collapsed homes; people clinging to the branches of trees.
All of a sudden, a region so often neglected by the rest of the world was thrust into the spotlight.
In Chikwawa district, in the southwestern pocket of Malawi, the cyclone struck communities already devastated by flooding that had forced many out of their homes and into temporary camps. In total, 15 of Malawi’s 28 districts and more than 868,900 people have been affected. As a result, over 731,000 people in need of assistance.
Earlier this month I visited camps in the East Bank area of Chikwawa and saw first-hand how difficult it was to reach people who have lost everything.
Visiting the camps: Families lying in wait
The road leading to these camps was ruined. In one place, the bridge was completely broken, so cars had to drive through the middle of the river. One of our vehicles, full of food for the camps, got stuck and it took our team, along with the help of kind local people nearby, an hour to get it out.
Once I reached the camp, the stories told by people there were difficult to hear.
Seventy four-year-old Dorica from Mandere village was forced to flee her home. Heavy rain and winds tore down her thatched house, and her crops were completely destroyed.
Displaced Malawians are now forced to live in camps following the cyclone
Like 80% of Malawians, Dorica relies on farming to survive. Not only did she lose her home and possessions, but she also lost her livelihood.
Harvesting takes months and the next planting season is not until November. It is now critical that seeds are delivered to people like Dorica so they can plant them in the next few weeks – otherwise, there will be hundreds of thousands of people without food for an entire year.
That said, some fields are completely destroyed, the cyclone covering them with layers of sand. Some people may be allocated a plot of land by their village chief – if they are lucky. Others will have to rent a fertile piece of land, if they have the money. As a result of climate change, the amount of fertile land available to farmers is shrinking. It’s crucial that we think ahead to the future, as well as addressing people’s immediate needs.
As it’s so difficult to reach the camps, people there have had very little to eat. Seventy-eight year old Maines told me that since arriving in the camp, she has only had 10kgs of maize to feed herself, her daughter and three grandchildren.
What’s more, conditions in the camps are dire. This disaster has shattered the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. In Phimbi Camp, 440 people are sharing four ten-people tents. Pregnant women, children, elderly and disabled people are all crammed into these spaces – while men sleep outside in the dirt.
The toilet situation in this camp is also unbearable, with just two between 440. Many cannot bear to queue and are going to the bush to use the toilet. The stench is awful – not to mention the unsanitary conditions.
For women and girls it is not safe to be walking to these areas alone, especially at night. We already know that sanitation issues lead to safety risks for women and girls in camps for refugees and displaced people.
In another camp, Alinafe, the humidity brought on by the rains has caused a tic outbreak. People reported being unable to sleep because they are being bitten throughout the night.
Islamic Relief aid distribution (Malawi)
Islamic Relief: Helping families in need
Across the country, nearly 90,000 people have now been left displaced and are living in 173 camps. We’ve therefore been supporting displaced people in formal camps and informal shelters that have sprung up in schools and community centres around the district.
We’re delivering food, water, sanitation and hygiene and household items such as kitchen utensils, blankets and mosquito nets.
Whilst people in the camps may be the most visibly in need, there are also others who have lost their homes are sheltering with neighbours, friends or extended family. This is sadly the case for 250 of 493 families supported by Islamic Relief’s orphan sponsorship programme, which allows orphans and their guardians to receive nutritious food, clean water, safe shelter, healthcare and education. One guardian said she was staying in a house with a number of families and, due to overcrowding, there was a lack of privacy for young girls which was affecting their health and wellbeing.
Sadly, whilst the news headlines may be moving on from Cyclone Idai, for people affected – such as the thousands living in temporary camps and relying on the kindness of others in their communities – the impact of this catastrophe will last for years. And that’s why our work is so crucial.
To donate to our Cyclone Idai appeal click here.