Malawi Police Service say they can only declare dead persons who went missing following the impact of Cyclone Freddy after seven years as per provisions of the law.
This means the 537 people currently missing can only be declared dead in 2030.
National Police spokesperson Peter Kalaya said in an interview last week police are still searching for missing people in areas that were hit by Cyclone Freddy in the Southern Region.
The police’s position comes nearly two months after the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) indicated that they had lost hope on the missing 537 persons and that it will be waiting for police to declare them dead.
But Kalaya said police are just following the law that they should continue searching until seven years elapse.
He said: “In our case, searching is still in progress and we are still receiving reports from anyone that may lead to the recovery of the missing persons.
“It may happen that some of the missing persons went somewhere like in Mozambique, Mzuzu or Tanzania, but people thought they were swept away by floods. So we will declare them dead after seven years.”
But spot-checks in some of the areas that were hard hit by Cyclone Freddy such as Manja and Chilobwe townships in Blantyre, Ntauchila Village in Traditional Authority Likokwe in Chiradzulu where mudslides swept away the entire village and in Mulanje found that searching for missing persons stopped about two months ago.
In an interview last Tuesday, Mulanje district commissioner David Maxwell Gondwe said the searching of missing people in the district stopped about a month ago.
He said the council could not continue with the searching alone as it has no machinery to do the exercise.
“As a council, we did not have searching machinery in terms of equipment. So it’s MDF [Malawi Defence Force] that was conducting the search. It was centrally managed.
“But as a council, we stopped receiving new reports on the missing people. So we just concluded that they have stopped here and the number of missing people is still around 130,” said Gondwe.
A visit last week to Manja and Naotcha in Chilobwe where the mudslides swept some houses, found some people clearing the rubble and rebuilding their homes, while some, particularly women, were seen washing clothes along the streams created by Cyclone Freddy.
In an interview, one of the community members Stanley Majiwa, who was part of the local search team, said they stopped the exercise last month, days after police and MDF search and rescue team left the area.
“If the heavy machinery failed to complete the searching, how about us who were digging out the dead with hoes and shovels? So, we just accepted the situation and abandoned the search,” he said.
On March 29, nearly three weeks after Tropical Cyclone Freddy hit the country, Dodma said it had lost hope and police will declare the missing 537 persons dead.
During a press conference in Blantyre, Dodma commissioner Charles Kalemba expressed fear that after 17 days of searching, chances of finding the missing persons alive were slim.
He said: “As of yesterday [March 28 2023], 537 people were still missing and police and Malawi Defence Force (MDF) search and rescue teams are still searching for people who went missing.
“In Chiradzulu, there were police officers with sniffer dogs and a grader, but they didn’t find anything. So, we have closed the search there.”
The disaster killed 676 and displaced over 600 000 people.