Surviving on pumpkins

 For people hit by floods as Malawi rises from hunger caused by persistent drought, life is getting harder every day.

This is the sad tale of survivors of last month’s flooding camping at Zanjo Primary School in Traditional Authority (T/A) Jenala in Phalombe District, where they have been surviving on pumpkins for three weeks as food aid was beyond their reach.

Floods survivors at Zanjo Primary School in Phalombe

The primary school, which has 2 011 learners, is now home to 707 families which are sharing four toilets, but there is no bathroom. Men and women share a makeshift, see-through bathroom on site.

They have no beddings, cooking utensils and food. Nothing.

Sanitation too, is another challenge as the four toilets available are being shared by 2 718 people—both learners and the victims.

For Grace Makala, an elderly woman who barely knows the exact date she was born, life at the camp has been as brutal as the floods that drastically changed the world around her.

In an interview when the camp received assorted relief items from World Vision International (WVI) and Petroleum Importers Limited (PIL), Makala said she felt relieved that she will finally have something solid to eat.

“We are going to eat at last. All along we have been having these pumpkins on daily a basis. There was nothing more we could have done about it. We are thankful for the camp where we are being kept,” she said.

Each family received a 20 kilogramme (kg) flour pack, 10 packets of soya pieces, three plates, three plastic cups and one bucket.

Elise Simuja, who has been at the camp since March 8, said they usually fetch the pumpkins from crop fields that survived the flooding that came after three days of heavy rains.

“Those who have people giving them money, buy the pumpkins at the nearest markets. But, of course, we share since we are in this crisis together,” she said.

World Vision district programme manager Samson Semu said Phalombe is one of the worst hit districts with over 10 000 households displaced.

The internally displaced people face numerous challenges, including overcrowding, poor sanitation and hunger.

“The main challenges are congestion. The victims are sharing the same classes with the learners. Besides, there is a breakdown in sanitation. The few toilets meant for pupils are now being used by a bigger population,” he said.

The floods that followed cyclone Idai in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe keep disrupting classes in schools where the survivors are camping, said Zanjo deputy head teacher Felix Mbewe.

“The disaster poses a big challenge because some classrooms are being used by the victims day and night. As such, teaching and learning is being affected because we combine more learners in one classroom,” he said.

According to the Ministry of Education, a teacher is supposed to serve no more than 60 pupils at a time.

But at Zanjo, one teaches over 100 pupils nowadays.

When classes are in session, pupils have to do with noise and other distractions from the survivors of the floods which affected about one million people in 14 districts, displacing 125 000 households and killing 56 people.

PIL donated K10 million to World Vision to complement the Department of Disaster Management Affairs in alleviating the suffering of people affected by the humanitarian crisis.

Government estimates that the country requires $42.3 million (about K31.2 billion) for the food response, but contributions and pledges total $11 million (about K8.1 billion) so far.

Last week, The Nation established that some victims in hard-to-reach parts of Chikwawa and Nsanje had waited in vain for two weeks to get basic items, including food, tents, sanitation accessories and mosquito nets, as aid was concentrated in camps near tarmac roads and trading centres.

Both Dodma spokesperson Chipiliro Khamula and United Nations country representative Maria Jose Torres said the skewed access to relief items was caused by poor roads made worse by the floods.

They called for a coordinated approach to avoid a scenario where some camps get too much aid while equally affected communities are sidelined.n

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