Written by  Yamikani Simutowe

Droughts and floods continue to pose serious threats to life, livelihoods, property and economic growth within and beyond Malawi. 

Floods linked to Cyclone Idai affected communities in Chikwawa district, Malawi. Picture-Internet.affected Floods linked to Cyclone Idai affected communities in Chikwawa district, Malawi. Picture-Internet.affected


In 2019, heavy rains and flooding linked to Cyclone Idai killed 60 people, displaced nearly 87,000 and affected the livelihoods of around 870,000 people in Malawi and 370 million US Dollars was needed to support the affected households, according to government.

In Zimbabwe, according to published reports, floods—experienced early this year— killed around 40 people. Homes and properties, including a stockpile of coal at Hwange Power Station, the country’s largest thermal power facility, were equally damaged.

It’s a similar story in neighboring Mozambique. In 2019, economic activities at the Port of Beira, the second largest port there, were affected by floods linked to Cyclone Idai. Ninety percent of the City of Beira was damaged. Operations were halted, affecting businesses within and beyond Mozambique borders that use the port for exports and imports.


The City of Beira in Mozambique was equally affected by floods. Picture-Internet.

Beira provides short and quick access route for transit cargo to or from Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana and Democratic Republic of Congo and a fuel pipeline stretches from the port to Zimbabwe.

Over 500,000 people were rendered homeless and an estimated 700,000 hectares of crops were lost in central Mozambique as a result of widespread flooding and heavy winds in the wake of Idai.

In the face of a changing climate, more people are prone to these extreme weather events. And mostly, the poorest and vulnerable communities—both in rural and urban areas—suffer the most. They suffer double losses as floods wash away both their homes and sources of livelihood.


Vulnerable communities, including children suffer the most. Picture-Internet.

These unpleasant events are occurring at a time when the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are calling on nations—poor or rich—to promote prosperity while protecting the environment and tackling climate change.

In 2015, United Nations member states adopted the SDGs as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030.

The universal call also emphasizes that development must balance social, economic and environmental sustainability.


Flood victims such as these in Chikwawa district needed urgent relief assistance. Picture-Internet. 

However, countries in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) seem to be grappling with the natural disasters—mainly floods and droughts—with more resources being channeled towards post disaster activities.

Malawi, according to the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma), has for the past decades experienced more than 19 major floods and seven droughts, with these events increasing in frequency, magnitude and scope. In the last four years alone, total losses and damages have been estimated at US$921 million, while recovery and reconstruction needs amounted to close to US$1.4 billion. 


This, according to Executive Director for Centre for Environmental Policy and Advocacy (CEPA) Hebert Mwalukomo, calls for implementation of risk reduction strategies both at regional and local levels, to save lives and build more-resilient nations. 


Mwalukomo feels individual countries have got umbrella frameworks to guide resilient building actions in areas of agriculture, social protection, disaster risk management and forest and catchment management, but they are not fully utilized. 


CEPA ED Herbert Mwalukomo: We seem not be using the frameworks.


Malawi’s strategies, linked to and built on various policy frameworks existing in the respective sectors, include the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy II (MGDS II); National Disaster Risk Management Policy; National Agriculture Policy; Agriculture Sector Wide Approach; Malawi National Social Support Programme; Post Disaster Needs Assessment Report and the National Water Policy. 


“Those areas are not really functioning as they should, because we have not used these frameworks in terms of budgetary allocation, but also planning. While we are having and putting in place these strategies, when it comes actual operationalization, we seem not to be using the frameworks and that’s why until today, we still talk about resources being allocated only for other recurrent transactions especially at district level where these disasters occur where there is need to be building the resilience we are talking about,” says Mwalukomo.


Malawi’s President Dr. Lazarus Chakwera, who will take over the Sadc Chairmanship in August 2021, stresses the need for more investment in strategies that would help in mitigating the risks of natural disasters rather than spending a lot of money in relief activities after a disaster.


“The homelessness caused by Cyclone Idai or the outbreak of diseases like cholera and the Covid-19 due to poor sanitation occasioned by poor management of water resources. These examples demonstrate how integral natural resources are to our wellbeing,” says Chakwera.

He observes that if not immediately attended to, these adverse effects can defeat the country’s quest for economic growth.

“We must save our natural environment. We cannot keep our debt with destiny without settling our debt to nature. We must fix the degradation of our soils that make our farming possible. We must protect our woods and forests that sustain the rain cycle that waters our crops every year,” asserts Chakwera.


Malawi's President Dr. Lazarus Chakwera: There is need for more investment in strategies to mitigate risks.


Movement for Environmental Action (MEAC) interim leader Mathews Malata feels countries focus much on response and not disaster risk reduction. Malata claims “response is generally kind of reactive” and takes away a lot of money. 


“Disasters such as floods and droughts are a genuine threat to the advancement of any development agenda and in this case, they pose a very big threat in as far as Malawi attaining the SDGs or the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy targets and the Covi-19 has just made things worse,” he says.


Malawi is also a party to the Sendai Framework Convention on Climate Change which was hatched in 2015. Some targets in this framework are to reduce the disaster mortality and disaster losses—economic losses when disasters occur.


“Looking at economic losses in general and incidents that have been happening in Malawi, we are yet to reduce the number of people usually affected by the floods. We are yet to reduce the number of houses or infrastructure that gets damaged when these floods occur.


“So, we still have a long way to go because each and every time we have got floods, we register huge economic losses,” Malata says.


He stresses the need for more investment in the disaster risk reduction sector, saying disaster risk financing is crucial in disaster risk reduction management.


The environmental activist further says farmers should also be encouraged to transfer the risks to insurance companies so that whenever they experience droughts or floods, they can get compensated.



Crops get washed away and farmers should be encouraged to tranfer risks to insurance companies


“We must intensify irrigation programmes so that if they have challenges to harvest what they expected during the normal rainy season, they can always recover during the dry period and with proper markets for their produce, they can have some income that can keeping them going for some time.


“All we need is clear prioritization of what we want to do as a country, finance activities as laid out in our development blue print, and then if we implement them, we are going to make the progress we all want to see. But if we don’t provide finance, if we don’t prioritize and if we don’t implement what we have laid out in the strategies, I think it will be very hard to attain most of the SDGs or Malawi Growth and Development Strategy targets,” says Malata.


Head of Communications and Public Relations at SADC Secretariat, Barbara Lopi says that the 16 Member States are addressing disaster risk from a regional approach through national-driven actions.
Lopi asserts that countries aligned their disaster risk management frameworks, including policies and the strategies, to the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR).

“Currently the Strategy is providing guidance on the operationalization of a regional preparedness and response approach through the development of guidelines, systems operating procedures and capability investment effort, says Lopi, adding that the SADC Preparedness and Response Strategy and Fund 2016-2030 will be reviewed in 2021 for deepened alignment with the Sendai Framework,” says Lopi.

In February this year, according to Lopi, Ministers responsible for Disaster Risk Management (DRM) met in Zanzibar where they also approved the Regional Resilience Framework 2020- 2030 with strategic performance pillars to address decision-making, poverty and vulnerabilities, gender inequalities, DRM mainstreaming and resilience building for strengthened disaster risk management in the region.

Strategies supporting DRM efforts in the region include the new SADC Vision 2050 and RISDP 2020-2030 Strategic Objectives for DRM, SADC Preparedness and Response Strategy and Fund 2016-2030, (SADC) Regional Resilience Framework 2020-2030, Africa Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction and Programme of Action and the Sendai Framework.

However, Lopi admits that DRM efforts face a number of challenges, which include the outbreak of Covid-19 and African Migratory Locusts Infestation.

“The scale and frequency of disaster risks events is on the increase globally and also in the region, from the cyclone disturbances and widespread floods, to persistent drought and food insecurities currently affecting 51 million people and stunting figures averaging above 25% for a significant number of Member States in both rural and urban areas, EBOLA in the DRC, African Migratory Locusts infestations in eight Member States and now the COVID-19 and that has compounded the disaster effects translating to macro (socio-economic) and micro (household) impacts,” explains Lopi.


She, therefore, stresses that the preparedness and response capacities need to be enhanced at all levels in terms of the technical and financial resources in the region and strengthen collective regional multi-hazard contingency planning for all the Member States collaboratively with the regional cooperating partners. 


“There is limited domestic resource mobilization to fund the multi-hazard contingency plans at various levels. There is still limited risk-responsive national development planning and budgetary allocation and if there are, these do not correlate to the magnitude and preparedness and response needs when the disaster risks event occurs. 


“Disaster risk communication and knowledge translation into lives saving, risk-proofing livelihoods, assets and economies actions at the various levels. This should also be completed by the availability of timely data and information to inform early warning and decision making,” Lopi asserts.

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