As Tropical Cyclone Freddy Hits, Malawi Faces Urgent Need for Support and Preparedness

By Wonderful Mkhutche and James Woods*

As the sun rose over the vast expanse of southern Malawi on March 11, families and farmers went about their daily routines. The air was heavy with humidity and clouds gathered with a promise of rain. It was just another day for them, or so they thought.

But Mother Nature had other plans. In the distance, a storm was brewing, one that would soon unleash its fury on the unsuspecting communities. Tropical Cyclone Freddy (TCF) was coming with a determination to destroy.

A few weeks before, the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services had issued warning updates in preparation for TCF’s expected impact on most parts of southern Malawi. The areas to be highly impacted included Chikwawa, Nsanje, Mulanje, Thyolo, Chiradzulu, Phalombe, Mwanza, and Blantyre, along with parts of Neno, Zomba, and some Lakeshore districts.

In response to the projected impact, the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA) had been coordinating preparedness and response interventions. But it was too little and too late as the Cyclone’s rage had already reached its destination. As of March 13, DoDMA’s Commissioner for Disaster Management Affairs, Charles Kalemba, was quoted in the local media that about a hundred people had died and thousands  injured due to the Cyclone with property destroyed and thousands displaced.

The people of Malawi, however, are no strangers to natural disasters. In 2019, Cyclone Idai wreaked havoc across Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, leaving over 1,000 people dead and affecting millions. The lessons learned from that tragedy had spurred the government and its partners to invest in disaster preparedness and resilience building, but there was only so much they could do due to limited resources and capacity.

As TCF drew closer, people began to evacuate their homes to take shelter in designated centres. The Ministry of Education announced school closures for March 13-14 in southern Malawi over safety concerns, and communities braced themselves for the worst. The rain started to pour, and the wind howled like a pack of wolves.

In the midst of it all, one story stood out. That of a family in Nsanje, a district highly impacted by the cyclone due to its proximity to Mozambique and the Indian Ocean. They had lost everything during Cyclone Idai’s 2019 floods, and now they are faced with the reality of starting over once again. But instead of despairing, they banded together, with neighbours and strangers alike, to help each other survive. They pooled their resources and worked tirelessly to build makeshift shelters and dig trenches to divert the floodwaters.

Their story is one of resilience and hope in the face of adversity, a testament to the strength of the human spirit. But it is also a reminder of the stark reality that many communities in Malawi face. Climate change has made natural disasters more frequent and more devastating, and the people on the front lines of these crises are often the ones who can least afford to bear the brunt of them.

The government and its partners have made strides in disaster preparedness and resilience building. However, much more needs to be done. Malawi remains one of the world’s least developed countries, with limited resources and infrastructure to cope with the impacts of climate change. The country relies heavily on overseas aid from rich countries to help them become more resilient to extreme weather and to adapt to climate change.

The disastrous effects of Cyclone Idai and now Cyclone Freddy have highlighted the crucial importance of rich countries providing financial support to poor countries. Mozambique has also been hit hard by these deadly storms, showing the widespread impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities.

As the rain continues to fall and the winds rage on, the people of Malawi will continue to band together and fight for their survival. But they cannot do it alone. The international community must step up and provide the resources and support needed to help build climate resilience and protect the lives and livelihoods of those on the front lines of climate change. The fate of millions hangs in the balance, and the time to act is now.

*Wonderful Mkhutche is a well-known Malawian political scientist, author, newspaper columnist and public intellectual. He widely comments on socio-political issues in Malawi and is a reputable good governance expert. He hold a Master of Arts Degree in Political Science from the University of Malawi, and is an author and co-author of three top-selling books in the country, ‘Lucius Banda; The Man, The Music & The Politics’, ‘Hills and Valleys; The Autobiography of Billy Kaunda’ and ‘Religion & Politics In Malawi; Short Essays’.

*James Woods is a former Malawi Diplomat to the European Union, he has also worked at the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, a organisation focused on promoting good governance and leadership in Africa. He is experienced in governance, reputation management, strategic media, communications, diplomacy, and sports management. He holds a Master of Science in Social Policy and Development from the London School of Economics and Political Science; a graduate of the Executive Leadership Programme at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, and the Executive Certificate in Shipping Economics, Investment, and Finance from CASS Business School and Baltic Exchange and is currently enrolled on the prestigious Executive MBA program at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. James is also an Arch-Bishop Desmond Tutu Fellow for Leadership. This fellowship is awarded to exceptional young African leaders who have demonstrated a commitment to advancing positive change on the continent.


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