Cyclone Freddy Ravages Southern Malawi Pushing Thousands into Poverty as President Declares State of Disaster
Visit the United Nations for the most up-to-date information on the effects of Tropical Cyclone Freddy.
By Deogracias Benjamin Kalima in Lilongwe
At least 430 people have been killed in Malawi as a result of Tropical Cyclone Freddy (TCF) in three days of a trail of destruction with continuous rainfall that began on Monday 12 March, triggering flooding and mudslides which swept away people, livestock, property and homes. The epicenter of the disaster was Blantyre, the commercial hub in the southern part of the South East African country where at least 158 deaths were recorded, the city’s largest deathtoll in recorder history by natural disaster, while hundreds more are nursing various injuries with over 183,158 people displaced translating into 40,702 families.
Another 201 people are reportedly still missing. The displaced are seeking shelter in classrooms of any public school near them, thereby disrupting classes for the across the city, forcing authorities to close public schools in the affected districts for two weeks. In total, the natural calamity has affected over 500,000 people in 14 districts across the nation.
Cyclone Freddy had been hovering between Madagascar and Mozambique since mid-February. Said to be the longest and most energetic tropical storm ever recorded, it made a landfall a second time in southern Africa on Monday. With winds of up to 120 KM per Hour and continuous rainfall for three days, it was a 72 hour period of horror for Blantyre residents as wherever the Cyclone passed through, it destroyed critical infrastructure, homes and business premises of thousands of entrepreneurs which could affect millions of people.
President Lazarous Chakwera, who was outside the country when Cyclone Freddy struck, declared a State of Disaster in the affected districts and appealed for assistance for the affected households. Chakwera has since returned to the country and is leading the relief and recovery efforts in the Southern Region.
In the Blantyre high density townships of Chilobwe and Manja, one of the hugely affected areas, mudslides and water from the nearby Soche Hill swept everything along its way including residential houses leaving a sorry sight of death and destruction. Worse still, rescue workers took time to arrive, forcing local young men from the area to take it upon themselves to search and retrieve bodies from the rubble before they were joined by government agencies like the Malawi Defence Force and Malawi Police Service. From Tuesday to Friday, 33 bodies had been recovered and buried.
Getrude Makupe, was forced to flee her home when the mudslides came down from the hill. In the chaos that ensued, she got separated from her 10-year-old child. Up to now, she has not heard anything about her son and what used to be her home has been completely razed down to rubble with little or no trace at all.
“When the debris from the hill started flowing into our neighbourhood, it was all hell as everyone run to various direction for safety. Luckily, I managed to escape, however, I have not heard from my beloved son since that day,” said Makupe while sobbing.
Makupe said despite all the destruction that occurred in her location, she remained hopeful that her son is alive and perhaps in one of evacuation camps.
The disaster will have a long run effect on the economy of the country as among the damage were various small scale business ventures of people which include shops, stalls, small factories, produce warehouses and car garages. These are activities which give numerous people in the city an income that they and their dependents count on.
Ronald Kandulu, who used to own motor vehicle spare part shop in Chilobwe township but lost everything, including his three motor vehicles, says his loss of a shop to the cyclone will affect his daily life as he has no other income stream from which he can pay his bills. He bemoans the loss saying that, in addition to himself, through his shop, he was employing five people to assist him in the day to day running of the shop, but now that the shop was swept away, all five are jobless which will affect their families and the country .
“The disaster has shattered our lives and those that depend on us. Imagine; I had five people who I employed to assist me at my spare parts shop, but now with the shop was swept away, these people are sadly jobless which is sad for them and their families. Unfortunately, there is nothing I can do at the moment,” he bemoaned.
Another heavily affected area is Chiradzulu, located an hour drive east of Blantyre, where mudslides from a nearby Chilimankhwanje Hill completely wiped out the entire village of Ntauchira and buried victims in the avalanche of debris. However, as of Friday, no search and rescue team from the army nor the police were on site, leaving locals with hand tools retrieving bodies.
Bob Ligomeka, one of the local people helping with the rescue of the trapped people, said they have been searching for those missing since Cyclone Freddy hit the area and 14 bodies so far had been retrieved by Friday, while a trapped person was rescued and taken to hospital. He bemoaned the lack of modern tools which are hampering their progress and also putting those trapped at risk of being injured by the tools they are using.
“Since we started the search and rescue operations locally, no other assistance has ever come saying they heard that an MDF team was assigned to the area but on their way their got stuck in mud somewhere and eventually they all left the place by evening hour,” he said.
Meanwhile, search and rescue operations are still on-going led by the Malawi Defence Force, the Malawi Police Service, Department of Marine, Malawi Red Cross Society and the communities.
Neighbouring countries have started to render a helping hand with Zambia deploying a search and rescue M18 aircraft to help rescue people in hard to reach areas of Phalombe, Mulanje and Nsanje districts, where most areas are still submerged in flood water. They are also releasing a relief aid aircraft.
Local Non Governmental Organizations and various people of goodwill are mobilizing material and monetary assistance to aid the victims, most of whom have lost almost everything and will have to start life from scratch.
According to the World Health Organization, extreme weather conditions and climate events directly affected over half a million people in 2021. In its report, it further says this increases the vulnerability of women and girls.
Amnesty Internatonal says Malawi alongside its affected neighbor Mozambique, should be compensated for loss and damage caused by Tropical Cyclone Freddy. In a statement posted on its website, the East and Southern Africa director, Tigere Chagutah says Malawi and Mozambique are facing full force of storms that are intensifying due to global warming, driven mostly by carbon emissions from the world’s richest nations.
“The affected countries must be compensated for loss and damage caused by the cyclone. Malawi and Mozambique are among the least responsible for climate change,” reads the statement.
Last year, the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) agreed to create a loss and damage fund for vulnerable countries hit hard by climate disasters. It now remains to be seen if the much touted fund will be made a reality, especially in the face of a latest deadly cyclone which affected Malawi and Mozambique.
The damage by Cyclone Freddy comes as Malawi was still recovering from the effects of two other cyclones in 2022, namely Gombe and Ana, which battered the country’s already inadequate infrastructure and significantly reduced crop yield in a country whose survival is heavily dependent on agriculture. The impact of last year’s cyclones have resulted in the skyrocketing of food prices on the market, pricing out majority of Malawians.
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Photos taken from various social media sources: