The devastating effects of Cyclone Idai, a category 4 cyclone that hit Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe two weeks ago, are still being felt. More than 3 million have been affected and people continue to flock to temporary shelters to seek refuge.
In southern Malawi’s Nsanje and Phalombe districts, some of the country’s most affected areas, sprawling camps for the displaced have mushroomed in schools and on available dry ground. Thirty-two camps are hosting approximately 26,000 people made homeless by cyclone-induced floods. Across Malawi, more than 86,000 people have been displaced and nearly 869,000 have been impacted.
Fanita Joseph, 58 (pictured above), moved to an evacuation camp in Ndamera after her village was submerged by floods in the middle of the night.
“There was commotion in the village as everyone was trying to rescue their belongings and food from their granaries,” she says. “But it was too late. The water level was rising fast and we had to escape upland by canoes, leaving everything we owned behind.”
The water level was rising fast and we had to escape upland by canoes, leaving everything we owned behind.
The three-room evacuation center, which CARE constructed last year with funding from USAID, is hosting about 2,871 women. Most of them have young children under five.
“I came along with my three grandchildren and I don’t know how I am going to feed them,” Fanita says. “The maize flour we were given last week is about to finish. I have to make a tough choice on when to eat to preserve the little food we have. This is tough for me as I can’t stand the children crying of hunger.”
Malnutrition cases are likely to spike, especially among children and pregnant and lactating women, as food shortages persist in almost all the districts camps.
“Although the conditions at this camp are good, we don’t have any food. We are surviving on wild vegetables,” Fanita says.
About 20 kilometers from Ndamera at Bilitinyu camp, the story is the same. Displaced people rushed to the camp with little or nothing as the raging floods swept away everything in their path. Bilitinyu has registered 300 pregnant women who, in addition to lacking food, are at risk of disease due to the camp’s poor water and sanitation conditions.
“I have been sleeping outside for a week as we didn’t receive a tent,” says Memory Nicholas, who is pregnant. “There are a lot of mosquitoes in this camp and I get bitten every day. I fear that something bad may happen to me and my unborn baby if I get sick.”
Bitilinyu camp has one water point serving more than 12,000 people, including the host community. Most camps in the district have six to eight sanitation facilities, regardless of how many people they host.
Number of people in Malawi impacted by Cyclone Idai
“The pressure on the toilets is too much. Some people have resorted to using the bush, which may bring problems such as cholera,” Memory says. “We have at least received some buckets and chlorine from CARE. This has helped us to keep and drink safe water.”
Although the need in the camps is daunting, CARE has managed to distribute water buckets, chlorine for water treatment and plastic sheets for roofing of temporary shelters to 2,366 households. More distributions are planned for the remaining camps were CARE is working in Malawi and other affected areas.