As flood waters subside in Malawi, hunger and disease loom in temporary camps

Written by: Joseph Scott, CARE Malawi

The effects of cyclone Idai, which hit Malawi two weeks ago, are still being felt as people continue to flock to temporary shelters to seek for refuge.

In Nsanje, one of the most affected districts in the southern tip of the country, sprawling camps for the displaced population have mushroomed in schools and available dry ground. The number of people currently staying in the camps are staggering. More than 20 camps have been set up hosting thousands of people rendered homeless by Cyclone Idai-induced floods.

Surviving on one meal a day

“I have been staying in this camp for two weeks now,” says Fanita Joseph (58) from Ndamera, who is a widow. “Although the conditions at this camp are good, we don’t have any food. We are surviving on wild vegetables,” she says.

Fanita moved in Ndamera evacuation camp when her village was submerged by floods. The floods hit her village when they were all asleep, and she says, her family survived by grace.

“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 by canoes to the upland leaving everything we owned behind.”

Fanita Joseph (58), a widow from Ndamera village in Nsanje escaped to a CARE constructed evacuation centre with a few belongings when cyclone Idai induced floods hit her village. “Although the conditions at this camp are good, we don’t have any food. We are surviving on wild vegetables,” she says. © Joseph Scott/CARE

The three-roomed evacuation centre, which CARE constructed last year with funding from USAID, is hosting about 2871 women. Most of them have young children under the age of five.

“I came along with my three grandchildren and I don’t know how I am going to feed them,” says Fanita. “The maize flour, we were given last week, is about to finish. So 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.”

Cases of malnutrition are likely to spike, especially on children and pregnant and lactating women as food shortage persists in almost all the camps in the district.

At Bilitinyu camp, some 20 kilometres from Ndamera, the story is the same. Displaced people rushed to the camp with little or nothing as the raging floods swept away everything on its path. Worse still, the camp has registered 300 pregnant women, who in addition to lacking food, are being exposed to risk of disease as the water and sanitation conditions at the camp are dire.

“I have been sleeping outside for a week as we didn’t receive a tent,” says Memory Nicholas from Nyachikadza village, who is expectant. “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. The toilets, says Memory, are not enough as more people are coming to settle in the camp. Most camps in the district have between six to eight sanitation facilities, irrespective of the number of the number of people they are hosting.

“The pressure on the toilets is too much. Some people have resorted to using the bush, which may bring problems such as cholera,” explains Memory. “On water, we have at least received some buckets and chlorine from CARE. This has helped us to keep and drink safe water.”

Helping the displaced to rebuild their lives

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.

Since most 80 percent of the affected people rely on agriculture for their income and their livelihoods, CARE with funding from the USAID, is planning to distribute agriculture recovery package to affected farmers for winter farming.

“We are targeting 3,000 households with farm inputs,” says Steven Jumbe, Disaster Risk Coordinator for CARE in Nsanje. “Our hope is that after the floods subside, there will be enough residual moisture to allow them to engage in winter planting. This will reduce the risk of food insecurity, which is a reality in the absence of support.”

Learn more about CARE's work in Malawi.