UN stepping up humanitarian efforts in Malawi’s flood-hit areas

Jan 23, 2015

Hundreds of refugees are sheltering in camps in the South of Malawi (Photo UNICEF)

The United Nations, working with a wide range of partners on the ground, has stepped up its support to the Government of Malawi as it works to save lives and bring food, medicine and other vital supplies to flood-affected areas.

Torrential rains have caused around 62 deaths, with an additional 153 people still missing. The floods have also displaced 174,000 in the Southern districts of Chikwawa, Nsanje and Phalombe, while infrastructure such as bridges and roads was destroyed.

The number of people affected is estimated at 638,000, the equivalent of 116,000 households. In addition, 300,000 children are currently unable to attend school.

On 13 January, the President of Malawi declared a State of Disaster in the 15 affected districts, out of a total of 28 districts. Heavy rains have also devastated some areas in neighboring Mozambique.

UN Resident Coordinator Mia Seppo, who also serves as the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) Resident Representative, said the UN was able to mobilize rapidly and is working with the government to reach those most in need. “Thousands of people have been affected by the floods. From the little girl wanting to be in school and play to her mother needing medical attention and her father who stayed behind trying to save their harvest,” she said.

The UN launched its response almost immediately after the floods began, using existing relief supplies in the affected areas. The focus is on assisting with the evacuation of populations, fulfilling immediate basic needs and drawing up early recovery plans, she added.

At the request of the Malawian government, Ms. Seppo said, the UN also acted fast to provide additional technical support to the Department of Disaster Management Affairs, which is responsible for coordinating and directing disaster risk management programmes nationally.

Teams from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) are gathering information on the ground and carrying out impact assessments.

Other UN agencies are supporting logistical efforts in camps where thousands of displaced people are being sheltered. UNICEF has airlifted 100 tonnes of essential supplies and is supporting the Government of Malawi to provide clean water and temporary sanitation, monitor the nutritional status of children and distribute essential medicines for women and children affected by the floods.

WFP and WHO have also airlifted additional supplies to support the emergency humanitarian needs.

UNDP and OCHA are helping to set up an emergency operations centre, assisting with logistics, planning and coordination. With the widespread destruction of crops and livestock, Ms. Seppo said, the agency will also support the government to draw up a plan for restoring food production in the affected areas.