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Flood Mitigation Projects in Malawi Save Some Communities from Cyclone Idai Flooding

The floods damaged houses and washed away thousands of crop fields, leaving 6.7 million people in dire need of food assistance. This is nearly half of Malawi's population

flood mitigation projects, cyclone idai
Beneficiaries of WFP's Resilent Program in Zomba, Malawi, construct blockades across rivers to help trap water runoffs during flooding. VOA

Flooding caused by Cyclone Idai affected a million people across Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in March, and forced hundreds of thousands out of their homes. But in Malawi, certain communities were spared because of flood mitigation projects sponsored by the World Food Program.

Residents of Mwambananji village, in the Zomba district of southeast Malawi, were among millions of people hard hit by the El Nino weather phenomenon in 2015, which caused drought and floods.

The floods damaged houses and washed away thousands of crop fields, leaving 6.7 million people in dire need of food assistance. This is nearly half of Malawi’s population.

Kenneth Scott was one of the affected villagers. He said “they were heavily affected by the floods which completely left their houses in water because of the water coming from the nearby rivers.”

But this year, Scott was not affected by the floods caused by Cyclone Idai, which killed 60 people and displaced nearly 90,000 others in the country’s 15 districts, including Zomba.

cyclone idai, flood mitigation projects
Besides flood mitigation efforts, the WFP continues to provide non-food items like tents to flood survivors in the affected area in Malawi. VOA

This is largely because of a World Food Program-funded project designed to mitigate the impact on communities living in flood-prone areas.

The program, started four years ago, is helping more than 10,000 households in Blantyre, Balaka and Zomba districts.

Kiganzi Nyakato heads the WFP sub-office in southern Malawi.

“So, what we do is that we work with the communities to see how we can stabilize their food production. So its farming techniques or the type of seeds they are using, and also we work with them to have vegetable gardens,” said Nyakato.

The program also requires beneficiaries to work in groups to dig deep trenches and construct concrete blockades across rivers, trapping water runoffs during flooding.

Scott said the construction projects paid off when Cyclone Idai struck in March.

He said there were heavy rains this year, which would, “have put our lives at risk. Maybe you would not have found us here. But the deep trenches which we dug helped trap all the water that would have damaged and washed away crops. Because of this, only a small amount of water reached the homes.”

flood mitigation projects, cyclone idai
Kenneth Scott is seen a forest of trees which communities of Mwambananji village, Malawi, planted to help mitagate the impact of floods. VOA

Scott, however, said the challenge is that poverty is forcing some people to vandalize the blockades and cut down trees that were planted to contain soil erosion.

He said, “We wish that residents who live in surrounding areas could be financially empowered through loans in order to start some businesses that would help put a stop to the vandalism.”

ALSO READ: Flooding from Cyclone Idai Impacts Malawi’s Election

In the meantime, the WFP continues to provide food and non-food items to flood survivors in the affected areas. It plans to extend the flood mitigation program to more than 40,000 households by 2020. (VOA)

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Flooding from Cyclone Idai Impacts Malawi’s Election

But Malawi’s Electoral Commission says banning campaign rallies at evacuation camps deprives the flood survivors of being informed voters

malawi's elections, cyclone idai
Flood survivors at Bangula camp. Malawi government officials say allowing campaign rallies at evacuation camps would put property of flood survivors at risk of being stolen. VOA

As Malawi gears-up for elections this month, candidates and voters say flooding from March’s Cyclone Idai has already negatively impacted the vote. Some registered voters living in evacuation camps lost voting registration certificates in the floodwaters while candidates say they can’t get their message to would-be supporters living in evacuation camps.

Mafulesi Khingi from Manjolo Village is among thousands of eligible voters still living in evacuation camps two months after Cyclone Idai. The tropical storm that hit Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe in March flooded them out of their homes.

Khingi said the floodwaters also swept away her voter registration and those of six other family members. We had no time to rescue our voter certificates, she said, because the house was collapsing. The only thing they could do, says Khingi, was to run for their dear lives.

Not having a voter certificate means having to explain why to officials who then look-up registration at the polls before they can vote. While Malawi election authorities say it should not prevent voting, the extra step could deter voters, especially those who are not informed.

cyclone idai, malawi's election
Flood survivors receiving donation of maize from world Food program in flood hit Chikwawa distrcit, Malawi. VOA

Cyclone Idai flooding killed 60 people in Malawi and displaced nearly 90,000 households in 15 districts. But it could also have an impact on the general elections held every five years. Gladys Ganda is a parliamentary candidate for the ruling Democratic Progressive Party in Nsanje district.

She said Cyclone Idai’s displacement of people is preventing her from campaigning in affected areas. “In the sense that people are not in their homes. Some people are camping in various camps and obviously when you go to do campaign, you will not find people around that area and you also not allowed to campaign at the camps,” she said.

Ganda said not being allowed to campaign in the evacuation camps has made it difficult for candidates like her to promote their platforms. Bizel Bishop, a flood survivor at Bangula evacuation camp, agrees.

He said they are not properly getting the issues raised by the candidates because the candidates are not allowed to campaign at the camp. And returning home is also difficult, says Bishop, because there they have no food. They can only wait for the government to help their return home where they will be able to attend campaign rallies.

malawi's election, cyclone idai
Accomodation is another challange at Bangula evacuation camp. VOA

Lusizi Nhlane is Commissioner for Malawi’s southern flood-hit Chikwawa district. He said allowing campaign rallies at evacuation camps would bring chaos as they are already too crowded. But Malawi’s Electoral Commission says banning campaign rallies at evacuation camps deprives the flood survivors of being informed voters. Sam Alufandika is the commission’s Chief Elections Officer.

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“As Malawi Electoral Commission we have not received this [complaint] officially but we will do our own investigation to find out why they are not allowed to go to the camps. Because everybody is supposed to be reached out. They have to know what these candidates are offering for them to have an informed choice on polling day and those who are affected by floods cannot be left out,” he said.

Malawi’s government has announced it will start closing the evacuation camps on May 14, just one week before elections. (VOA)