It is estimated that floods have left scores dead and more than 100,000 people displaced from their homes in Malawi. The World Food Programme started food distributions in some of the worst-affected areas within days of the President of Malawi declaring a disaster in 15 of the country’s 28 districts.

The muddy water spreads like a sheet of dirty glass over the landscape. From the air, a limit to the flood can be seen where the waters reach some low hills. Details emerge as one looks down on the watery vastness: here and there the canopy of a tree, the straw or corrugated iron roofs of some huts, a pirogue with three figures in it. Through it all snakes a road or what was once a road. No travel except by boat is possible in this vast inland lake.

Floods have submerged huge swathes of Malawi, particularly in the south. They were caused by rains which started at the end of last year and accelerated in early January. In the first few weeks of the New Year, southern Malawi received 400 percent higher rainfall than average. On 13 January, the President of Malawi declared a national disaster in 15 districts. The Shire River is at a 30-year high and many roads have been cut.

WFP food being unloaded for people living in a school after being flooded out of their homes in Chikwawa district.   Photo by: WFP/Innocent Njara

Dozens of people have drowned, some eaten by crocodiles carried into villages by the flowing waters. As rivers burst their banks, many sought safety in trees and on the roofs of their homes. More than 120,000 people are estimated to have been displaced and now live in schools or makeshift camps with whatever belongings they have been able to salvage.

Under the co-ordination of the Government of Malawi’s Department of Disaster Management Affairs, the World Food Programme has been gearing up to reach all those affected by the floods, particularly the displaced. WFP began its food distributions in Chikwawa within days of the flood waters rising and next started moving to help those in Nsanje, Phalombe and Mulanje districts.

Displaced families have been receiving a mixture of maize, beans, vegetable oil and Super Cereal (corn soya blend which can be made into a porridge). The commodities are coming from in-country stocks destined for assistance to vulnerable people during the lean season and need to be replaced as soon as possible to maintain this vital lifeline.

“When we arrived at Mikolongo School in Chikwawa, there were more than a thousand people camping there,” said WFP Programme Officer Elton Mgalamadzi. “I could tell they were exhausted and weak. Crowds in Malawi are generally energetic, even laughing. This time, it was quiet.”

This food assistance was the first relief that the displaced people at Mikolongo had received since the floods hit.

On 19 January, WFP airlifted 77 metric tons of High-Energy Biscuits from the UN Humanitarian Response Depot in Dubai, enough to meet the needs of some 77,000 people. These fortified ready-to-eat biscuits are being prioritised for the worst hit areas of Nsanje and Chikwawa districts where the most vulnerable people have been displaced from their homes and have no access to food or cooking facilities.

With access still a challenge, all modes of transport including helicopters and shallow-draught boats are being deployed to move food to where it is most needed. It is likely that the numbers of those needing assistance will continue to rise.

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ZIMENE MUMAKONDA

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