Preparing for floods in Malawi

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Devastating floods have killed over 170 people and displaced 246,000 people in Malawi this year, and as the rainy season is still ongoing the situation might get worse in some districts. The floods have caused extensive damage to crops, livestock and infrastructure, with the southern districts of Nsanje, Chikwawa, Phalombe and Zomba worst affected. On the 13th of January 398mm of rain fell in Blantyre in 24 hours, which is the highest amount of rain received since records began in 1970. Loss of household food supply, reduced access to food, displacement and disruption of food interventions, including WFP’s ongoing lean season relief food assistance and school feeding programme are pushing the affected people into food insecurity. The nutritional status of the affected population, especially women and children, is at serious risk.

Despite the scale of the disaster, some of the activities implemented by the Global Framework for Climate Services Adaptation Programme in Malawi helped people prepare and respond better to the current flooding. It is hoped that ongoing initiatives under the programme will help boost resilience in the future to extreme events such as floods.

The seasonal forecast issued by the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services (DCCMS) was downscaled to the district level for the hard-hit districts of Zomba, Nsanje, Lilongwe and Salima, which are all pilots in the programme. This provided local inhabitants and disaster managers with more accurate forecasts and information.

However, the flooding has also highlighted the need for continued and scaled up joint action to deliver climate and weather services to communities. The MDCCMS have been working hard to provide weather information to the people of Malawi. “MDCCMS have been issuing weekly updates in addition to ten day rainfall and agrometeorological bulletins. The challenge now is how to find effective ways to communicate the warnings directly to affected communities. The current channels are very long, as the information passes through a number of government departments” said Mr Jolamu Nkhokwe, the Director of the MDCCMS.

One direct communication channel that is supported by the GFCS programme is working through Red Cross volunteers who support Civil Protection Committees to get information out directly to the communities by going door to door to talk to people.

One such volunteer is Mr Benjamin Chimbalanga from Kaliyenka ward in Lilongwe who has been working with the Red Cross since 2005. “Before, nobody was interested in the weather, but after the floods in 2010 people in Kaliyeka started paying attention to the forecasts” Benjamin says.

In addition to the Civil Protection Committees the Red Cross support Climate Clubs in primary schools to spread messages on the need for protecting the environment and adapt to the changing climate. As part of the GFCS programme, these activities are being scaled up in Mtandire ward in Lilongwe, and on the 22nd of January members of the Civil Protection Committee and Climate Club in Kaliyeka visited Kamkodola Primary School in Mtandire to share what they have learned through drama, song and dance.

Anne Beathe Tvinnereim from NORAD, which is funding the GFCS programme, attended the event. “It is great to see so many children here today, as it means that in a few years we will have a generation that knows how to adapt to climate change” she said.

The Norway funded GFCS programme is in its second year of implementation and brings together seven UN agencies, international organization and research institutes to support communities to be better able to manage the risks related to climate variability and build the capacity of actors to deliver climate services to support adaptation. 

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