January 16, 2003

Heavy floods are damaging homes and crops

Heavy rains in Malawi have resulted in floods in many parts of the country, damaging homes, destroying crops and disrupting transportation, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported.

The great majority of those affected are extremely poor women who are predominantly engaged in crop production, OCHA said, noting that such crops as maize, tobacco and rice that have been wiped out are the main source of livelihood for most Malawians. The rains, which began in late December, have occurred during a time when Malawi is experiencing a food crisis.

President Bakili Muluzi has declared Salima, Nyungwe Wovwe in Karonga, Lisungwi Extension Planning Area (EPA), Bwanje valley in Ntcheu, Dowa and Balaka South as disaster areas. In his special address to the nation, President Muluzi said the floods have increased Malawi's urgent need for food and non-food assistance.

"Apart from the reported loss of four people in Salima district, two in Dowa district, and one in Karonga district and three people missing in Rivirivi, there has been extensive damage to infrastructure and crops," he noted. Muluzi appealed to both local and foreign donors to assist Malawi with both food and non-food items to alleviate the suffering of the flood victims.

He told the nation that the floods caused extensive damage to infrastructure such as bridges, railway line structures, electricity power lines, maize fields and houses. It is however not possible at the meantime to assess the cost of the damage because most areas are not accessible. It is nonetheless, a known fact that the repair for damages and civil protection would cost millions of kwacha. Salima District Assembly has estimated that about 15000 people are homeless due to floods.

As Lucius Chikuni, the Commissioner for Disaster Preparedness and Relief, said, Malawi needs international assistance urgently to cope with the aftermath of floods that have killed at least seven people since the beginning of the year. "There is no way Malawi can cope with it's own resources," he said. Chikuni's office would help the victims with food items, plastic sheeting, basic household items like pails, plates, cups, pots and blankets and have supplied a few family-size tents. Many people were taking shelter in churches and schools. About 14 small bridges were washed away and a number of railway bridges have been closed. The government has carried out the temporary rehabilitation of the road link between Lilongwe and Blantyre. Health officials were also addressing the threat of a cholera outbreak in the Salima district. The World Food Programme (WFP) said the heavy rains had cut off up to 10 percent of its beneficiaries from deliveries. (The Malawi Standard / IRIN / United Nations)

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