Rebuilding life after floods

As the flooded spots dry, survivors are leaving overcrowded camps where trickles of aid are waning.

Patuma Zaina, 44, left Nyachilenda Camp in Marka south of Nsanje South, where she has been staying for a month since floods destroyed her house on April 8. For her, a long struggle to rebuild her home has started straightaway.

Facing an uncertain future: Musa picking broken bricks

She is among tens of people returning to fix their shattered homes in Madani Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Ndamera.

“While doing piece works to feed my children, I have to find time and money to erect a temporary shelter. Currently, I am putting up in my in-law’s house while constructing this structure,” she says, pointing at a shaky structure made of poles, bamboos and reeds.

She is among thousands hit hard by floods that affected 869 000 people in 15 districts, displacing more than 80 000.

They are increasingly heading back to wrecked homes.

During the visit, men and women were clearing the rubble to pave the way for reconstruction. Everyone seemed engrossed and eager to finish as fast as possible.

“We are tired of being accommodated in camps and neighbours’ homes. Since we are still receiving rains, we don’t want to start moulding bricks. The grass-thatched houses will do until dry season when we can mould bricks,” says Zaina.

Yet, some people had started moulding bricks only to stop when it rained again on April 17.

“I thought it would no longer rain but the bricks are now destroyed,” complains Rhoda Moses.

While some  have received plastic sheeting from humanitarian organisations, others are struggling to raise money for buying construction materials.

As rebuilding gains momentum, the victims are returning to their fields to replant maize, vegetables, beans, potatoes and other crops where a near-harvest crop was washed away last month.

Farmers with crop fields in the neighbouring Ndindi Marsh are waiting for water to dry up before planting crops again.

Upland, growers can be seen hard at work in a desparate attempt to avert hunger caused by the flooding that disrupted their recovery from a food crisis caused by drought.

“I have started making ridges to grow potatoes, maize and beans. These are the crops I grew. They were almost ready for harvesting when floods washed them away,” says Marita Mussa, 32.

Mussa and her campmates received seeds for winter cropping. Others did not receive any.

Last month, Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development launched a national exercise to distribute farm inputs worth K1 billion to support flood survivors overcome hunger and poverty.

The survivors are fleeing life in the camps early—as government estimated they would stay there for three months—to begin putting together the pieces of their life.

“We were told to leave the camps on May 15, but we have no time to waste. The struggle to rebuild will be long and costly,” says Madalo Sochera, from Mitondo in Chikwawa.

The displaced persons have to “restart their life from scratch” with government’s assistance or without, she states

According to Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) Principal Secretary Wilson Moleni, all victims will get starter packs of temporary construction materials.

“I think the next construction of proper buildings will come in the recovery phase,” he said.

However, the homeless leaving camps are yet to receive the starter packs

Same old story

Due to climate change Malawi has recently experiencing frequent devastating floods and droughts.

In 2015, massive floods affected about 638 000, killing 79. The disaster paved the way for dry spells that worsened the spate o f hunger that transitioned to last month’s floods.

However, back-to-back floods keep catching the country unprepared despite Dodma’s efforts to strengthen preparedness and minimise the damage in potential disaster zones.

Last year, Dodma spokesperson Chipiliro Khamula told The Nation that the department pre-positioned search and rescue personnel and equipment in disaster-prone areas just before the onset of the rainy season.

“With the small grants scheme, with support from United Nations Development Programme [UNDP] and China, we are constructing flood mitigating structures in flood-prone districts.

“We have also built check dams in Mangochi and we are installing gabion baskets and a dyke along the ever swelling Mwanza River in Chikwawa District,” he explained.

Despite these interventions, the recent floods disrupted livelihoods more forcefully than the 2015 disaster.

However, government is planning to bring recovery programmes to help the survivors rebuild more resilient structures.

As she erects her new home, Zaina knows the shaky shelter may be “a death trap” and “a waste of time” if she does not build a house which can withstand floods by the start of the next rainy season. n

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