Malawi’s slow pace to act on emergencies costing lives- activists

Like in a fairy tale, Malawians have in the past seven days experienced two horrific scenes in which lives of seven of its fellow citizens were lost, prompting Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and other human rights defenders to fault government for negligence and failure to put in place mechanisms for dealing with emergencies.

Four school children at Nantchengwa Primary School in Zomba shockingly died last Thursday after a wall of their school block fell on them.

As if that was not enough, three men lost their lives last Sunday after a ladder they were using to replace Shoprite banners fell on an overhead 11 000 volts power line at Chichiri Shopping Mall in Blantyre.

The two incidents have attracted criticisms on the part of government, first for failing to provide good learning environment for its children and for lacking mechanisms aimed at protecting its citizens.

From the way the Blantyre City Council (BCC) fire brigades handled the whole issue at Chichiri Shopping Mall questions have emerged as to whether they had any clue on what they were supposed to do.

In addition, a group of people were seen preoccupied with phones, taking pictures and watching three of the victims slowly moving towards the end of their lives.

Worse still, even though the lone survivor tried for many times to raise his hand calling for help, none of the people around made an effort to rescue them. They just stood frozen, shocked and staring blankly into the darkness befalling the four victims.

“Malawi is a sorry state, we are way too far to respond to emergencies, maybe it is because of ignorance or lack of civic education. We need to go back to the drawing board in as far as issues of safety and first aid are concerned.

“I watched a video clip whereby one of the four was raising a hand calling for help but people just stood aside watching, probably they did not have any clue as to what to do. We need more first aid lessons, people need to be aware of the basic necessities or else we will continue losing lives just like that,” said Human Right Consultative Committee (HRCC) board chairperson Robert Mkwezalamba.

On the other hand, Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) executive director Timothy Mtambo stated that in such a situation the families of the deceased can demand compensation from government as it is the responsibility of the state to protect its citizens.

“This brings us back to the question as to how prepared are we as a nation to act to emergencies. We seem helpless every time we face such situations to the extent that we lose lives and properties. The state really needs to work on its priories,” said Mtambo.

Mkwezalamba hinted that aside from arriving at the scene an hour late, the fire brigades were clueless as to what to do to save the victims and used wrong ways of dealing with the situation. BCC public relations manager Anthony Kasunda brushed off the accusation.

Said Kasunda: “People should learn to appreciate, the fire brigade immediately responded to the issue and did everything they could to save the situation. Are those people accusing and questioning the credibility of the fire brigade experts? Do they know how to handle such situations?”

Mkwezalamba further observed that much as the nation is said to be poor, it still needs to set priorities by among others putting up emergency helicopters, ambulances and vibrant paramedics to act fast to emergences.

Commenting on the death of the four children in Zomba, Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) and the Parliamentary Committee on Education argued that government is not playing its rightful role of providing for a decent learning environment in many schools across the country.

Csec executive director Benedicto Kondowe noted that the tragedy that happened at the school could have been avoided if government played its rightful role to see to it that education services are provided in the manner that safeguards lives of learners.

He said: “It is very clear that the school had an inadequate infrastructure for all the learners and because of the dire need for classrooms, parents mobilised themselves to create the structure that had crumbled. This structure should not have been created, in the first place, if the resources provided in the national budget could be used for the intended purpose.”

Kondowe noted that there has been education budget allocations for the construction of additional classrooms over the past eight years, but there is little being done to ensure that all schools in the country benefit from the national budget.

He reiterated that incidents whereby structures are falling on students are now increasing in the country.

“We should not experience such events in future. This is not the first of such unfortunate events: not long ago, a tree had fallen on students in Area 49 Township in Lilongwe. Government should re-organise itself and do things differently,” he said.

On his part, chairperson for Parliamentary Committee on Education Elias Chakwera shared similar observations with Kondowe.

Chakwera vowed his committee will continue providing its oversight role and will not relent in holding the government accountable over public resources.

“We have challenges in the inspection. Everywhere we go, we get complaints that schools are not inspected and we are told inspectors are faced with mobility challenges. Essentially, when schools are not inspected, we will have such tragedies,” he said.


Meanwhile, government has instituted an investigation into how government money was used to construct a substandard classroom block at the school.

Safety Tips on Electrocution

  1. Avoid working or constructing buildings close to power lines.
  2. Do not touch a person being electrocuted, to avoid getting an electric shock.
  3. Contact the service provider as quickly as possible so that they turn the power off through the power kill switch or at least the breaker/switch for the area that you are in.
  4. Turn off the source of electricity, if possible. If not, move the source away from you and the person, using a dry, non-conducting object made of cardboard, plastic or wood.
  5. Learn resuscitation. People who have been electrocuted are likely to have breathing problems and heart failure.
  6. Begin Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if the person shows no signs of circulation, such as breathing, coughing or movement.
  7. Try to prevent the injured person from becoming chilled.
  8. Apply a bandage. Cover any burned areas with a sterile gauze bandage, if available, or a clean cloth. Don’t use a blanket or towel, because loose fibers can stick to the burns.

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