In a special address to Parliament yesterday, President Lazarus Chakwera rued the impact of Tropical Cyclone Freddy, conceding it has brought the country on its knees.
The President said the full picture of the magnitude of damage caused is yet to be assessed, but the humanitarian aid required is beyond the country’s capacity.
In apparent reaction to expectations by opposition legislators for his administration to outline a recovery plan, Chakwera said the preliminary assessment was not comprehensive to inform the way forward. He said it was, however, a start of a conversation of national engagement on the path to recovery.
He said: “I can report that the deluge from Cyclone Freddy has brought our country to its knees more than any climate change event in living memory.”
The President pledged to return to the National Assembly with a full report after the assessment is completed.
In his address, Chakwera, clad in a black business suit and a matching neck-tie complemented by a white shirt, also announced plans by government to introduce a new Bill on regulating disaster management to be tabled during the current Budget Meeting of Parliament.
The Bill seeks to come up with lasting solutions in the relocation of people living in disaster-prone areas by giving them more resilience in the face of future disasters.
Chakwera said: “I have directed every ministry to conduct a full assessment of the damage to the sector it oversees in order for us to have a consolidated view of what our economy has suffered and what the cost of rebuilding and reconstruction will be.”
The President further informed the House of his administration’s response plan dubbed ‘Tigwirane Manja’ which will ensure that the dead are given a proper burial and those missing are accounted for.
He said the operation will also see to it that those stranded in unsafe areas are taken to safety in the shelters being created to meet their immediate humanitarian needs.
Meanwhile, the President has also promised that, going forward, his administration will ensure that issues of illegal settlements in towns and cities as well as mushrooming of poorly planned structures are addressed.
Taking his turn, Leader of Opposition in Parliament Kondwani Nankhumwa, while commending government for its efforts in reaching out to victims of the storm, suggested that management of disaster funds be decided by a special team owing to what he called high-level corruption in government.
He also asked government to adopt a technological approach in estimating the damages by bringing together experts from the Department of Lands and the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma).
Nankhumwa, who is Mulanje Central legislator, said the team can work together with university research centres to help government gauge the required interventions and the level of investment to be made.
In his contribution, Lilongwe South member of Parliament (MP) Peter Dimba (Malawi Congress Party-MCP) urged government to ask for debt cancellation or a moratorium to give the country time to grow its economy in the wake of devastating cyclones that have hit Malawi in recent years.
The proposal was widely welcomed by legislators as well as the President who indicated that Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs Sosten Gwengwe will take up the matter and act accordingly.
In the presence of the President, MPs gave accounts of how the disaster has affected their constituents.
Mangochi South MP Lilian Patel (United Democratic Front) gave an emotional lamentation of how her constituency, which is near the Mozambique border, has been sidelined in terms of humanitarian relief.
She said: “Imagine food that was received five days ago is still being kept for storage while people go hungry. My constituency is in Malawi and Mozambique.”
Chakwera declared a State of Disaster on March 13 while in South Africa where he had stopped over on his return from Doha, Qatar where he chaired the Fifth United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries.
During his address yesterday, he announced that President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa has has sent a rescue team to support the cyclone response efforts and that a South African private investor has provided R1 million, following talks he had with him during his brief visit.
On his arrival in Malawi last Tuesday, he proceeded to the Southern Region where he visited disaster affected districts to get a feel of the scale of the damage.
Today, the President is scheduled to engage former presidents Joyce Banda, Bakili Muluzi and Peter Mutharika on the same issue of Cyclone Freddy.
As of Tuesday, Malawi had recorded 507 deaths, 1 332 injuries with 537 people missing.
The number of the displaced stood at 553 614 with 543 camps set to accommodate them.