Patuma Elias, 24, from group village head Phimbi in Traditional Authority (T/A) Nkaya in Balaka nearly lost her two children Jonathan and Benita.
The incident happened on the night of March 7 2019 when the wall of her two-bedroomed house crumbled after being weakened by incessant rains.
Elias recounts vividly about what appeared to be light rains on March 6 ended up destroying her house built with sunbaked bricks.
“As usual, that day I prepared the evening meal and later after eating, my children and I retired to bed. Barely three hours after we had gone to bed, I heard a deafening sound only to wake up to the shock of seeing that the wall of the house had collapsed,” she recalls.
Elias says the incident happened while her husband was in Lilongwe to hunt for some piece work, the only source of living for the family.
Out of desperation, the mother of two called out to neighbours who rescued her and her children.
“Luckily, we only sustained minor injuries, but our property, especially kitchen utensils, were completely destroyed,” Elias says, adding: “Although I am in a desperate situation now, I thank God for sparing my life because no one could believe that we came out of the rubble.”
Mary Soziwa, from Thopoloni Village in T/A Makhuwira’s area in Chikwawa shares a similar story. The 27-year-old mother of four, who also looks after three orphans, says the rains have subjected her family to abject poverty.
“I can tell you that we are in dire need because we neither have food nor a house for accommodation,” she says.
Elias and Soziwa were at the time of conducting this interview with Malawi News Agency (Mana) seeking shelter at Phimbi 1 and Mpama evacuation camps in Balaka and Chikwawa, respectively.
The camps are among 187 pitched in all the affected districts to provide shelter to 94 000 people displaced by the harsh weather induced floods.
Since displacement also comes with other issues such as sanitary concerns, Elias and Soziwa complained of cholera, diarrhoea and scabies threat to under-five children and expectant mothers due to poor sanitation and hygiene in the camp.
“At Mpama Camp in T/A Makhuwira in Chikwawa, about 828 households share 12 classrooms at Mpama Primary School, translating to 90 per classroom.
“This congestion poses a health threat of communicable diseases such as scabies and tuberculosis,” Soziwa said.
She added that some people do not properly use the makeshift latrines erected at the camp, exposing under-five children and expectant mothers to waterborne diseases like cholera and dysentery.
Despite the situation, the two women should consider themselves lucky if the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) public relations officer Chipiliro Khamula’s sentiments are anything to go by.
He indicates that the floods hit almost one million people in Malawi, killing 60 and injuring 577 in the country’s 15 districts of Balaka, Zomba, Mangochi, Phalombe, Chikwawa and Nsanje, among others.
In the wake of the catastrophe, President Peter Mutharika declared a State of National Disaster to areas affected by the devastating rains.
This is the second time for Mutharika to declare a State of National Disaster in the affected areas which displaced nearly a quarter of a million people in 2015 across the country.
The President undertook visits to people displaced by the floods in the Southern Region to console bereaved families as well as cheer the survivors with relief items.
Additionally, Mutharika has been calling upon local and international development partners as well as governments to assist in alleviating the plight of people affected by the disaster.
One such local organisation which has positively responded is World Vision Malawi (WVM) which distributed food and non-food items to 141 displaced families in T/A Nkaya’s area in Balaka.
WVM programme manager for Ntcheu and Balaka, Limbani Gondwe, says in Balaka, close to 14 000 households have been affected by the disaster.
Among the affected, 1 800 households are from T/A Nkaya, the organisation’s impact area.
According to Gondwe, the extent of damage includes collapsed houses and washed away crop fields, putting people in desperate situation.
“We believe that when people are in such a predicament, they cannot contribute positively to development initiatives taking place in their respective areas,” he says.
Therefore, WVM donated l0 kilogrammes of maize flour, 10 packets of soya pieces, l0-metre plastic sheets and plastic buckets to every household to enable them recover from the effects of the disaster.
Gondwe also says beyond the handouts, WVM eyes long-term plans to support the communities to uplift their livelihoods.
Today, hundreds of internally displaced people including Elias and Sizowa are slowly regaining their normal lives following the distribution of relief items and provision of medical care to treat different ailments.
“We are grateful for the response and this is helping us a lot in alleviating our suffering caused by the disastrous torrential rains,” Sizowa says.
Meanwhile, a Situation Report No. 5 released on May 20 2019 by Dodma in conjunction with the United Nations Office of the Resident Coordinator states that 731 879 people have been reached with food assistance.
“Safe water was provided for 91 101 people through water trucking and rehabilitation of boreholes. Over 42 874 people have access to improved sanitation facilities in camps and the surrounding areas,” reads the report.
The report further says Dodma and partners are verifying the number of people that have returned to their places of origin and to accurately count those remaining in displacement sites to inform programming.
“Dodma and the Malawi Red Cross Society are currently reviewing the data from the recent Displacement Tracking Matrix [DTM] exercise to accurately inform on the remaining numbers of displaced populations,” reads part of the report.