Evacuation Centers to strengthen resilience and create safe communities during disasters in Malawi

Feb 13, 2018

Mwabulambo Evacuation Centre in Karonga

“When the floods come, women become even more vulnerable. We used to struggle to find a safe place whilst ensuring that our children, property and the elderly are safe. The camps we would go to were not safe for us and our children. Our involvement in the whole process of constructing the Evacuation Center means that our needs have been taken into consideration. The women’s rooms are much bigger to ensure that they accommodate our children as well. The borehole is within a safe distance to the camp which eases our worries for security at night.” Mary Chapi, Area Civil Protection Committee, Mwabulambo Evacuation Centre - Karonga District.

In recent years, Malawi has been experiencing more frequent and intense floods, droughts, strong winds and other extreme weather conditions which endanger communities, agricultural activities and infrastructure.  Over half of the 28 districts in Malawi are disaster prone and its effects are intensified by a lack ofpreparedness and recovery capacity and limited early warning systems.


To protect lives and strengthen the resilience of communities during natural disasters, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Government of Malawi are taking steps to reduce risks, and enhance preparedness for the future.  As part of this wider intervention, UNDP; together with the Peoples’ Republic of China and the Government of Malawi, launched a Small Grant Scheme in 2016 on Disaster Risk Reduction .

Under this China-Malawi- UNDP collaboration, grants were approved for 5 Community-Based Organizations and one Civil Protection Committee to establish 5 Evacuation Centres and to build 2 flood-protective dykes in five disaster prone districts in Malawi. 

The project is expected to benefit approximately 23,000 people in local communities in the districts of Chikwawa, Mangochi, Karonga, Salima and Nsanje.

Mwabulambo Evacuation Centre in Karonga

Karonga district in the northern part of Malawi is no stranger to disasters. Year after year, the rainy seasons in the months of November to January bring with it devastating effects that destroy agricultural crops, property and in some extreme cases, loss of life. The year 2018 has not been any different. According to Karonga District Council’s Department of Disaster Management Affairs, close to 40 houses in the district collapsed due to heavy winds and rains. The district is braced and prepares for the possibility of more disaster as the rains continue to fall. The lack of evacuation sites in the area led to many challenges and weakened coordination of flood response and recovery.

As community members finalize the construction of the newly built Mwabulambo Evacuation Centre in the district, they speak of their preparedness as the community should disaster strike and how the Center will make a difference in peoples’ lives.

“We are ready as a community, unlike the previous years. Of course, we do not want disaster to strike our community again, but should it happen, this Center will make a difference in our lives and our people will be more protected and have a safe place to come to until they recover,” said the Chairperson of the Village Civil Protection Committee, Nelson Mwakisulu.

Abwenzi Evacuation Centre in Salima

Approximately three kilometers from the Salima- Nkhotakota- road, also stands Abwenzi Evacuation Centre in Mangwazi village, Salima District. The center has been constructed in an area that faced frequent floods during the rainy seasons and the remoteness of the area created challenges for the community members to cope with the impact of the disaster and delayed responsiveness from humanitarian agencies.

Regarded as one of its kind development in the community, the facility has also helped unlock opportunities for NGOs and agencies that have plans to provide development and additional services to the area.

Thirty-five years old Elube Wilson’s house is a few meters from the newly constructed Evacuation Center and can now breathe a sigh of relief. She recalls how her family was affected by heavy rains in the previous year, which destroyed several houses leaving her and her family members destitute with no safe place to go to.

 “People would end up sleeping in churches and school blocks, and the buildings are not safe at all and our dignity is compromised. This center is a blessing to us because most houses cannot withstand the heavy rains and we can’t afford the building materials that could help make the houses stronger, so they easily get damaged when there are heavy rains,” she said.

Mchere Evacuation Centre in Nsanje

Nsanje District is also no stranger to frequent floods during the rainy season. The presence of Mchere Evacuation Centre, will help support the District Council’s disaster response and recovery efforts.

To ensure inclusivity and ownership of the interventions, community members have been fully involved in the planning, construction and the management of the facilities.

We had support from the District Council who came in almost weekly to monitor our process and to ensure that the structures were up to the required standards. Our Traditional Authority has also been very committed to the project. His frequent presence to supervise the work and encourage the involvement of community members was a motivation to all of us to embrace this intervention as ours” said the Chairperson for the Community Based Organisation, leading the community in the management of the Center.

CIBO Evacuation Centre in Mangochi

Mangochi District has also benefited from the project’s interventions and has constructed an Evacuation Center and flood mitigation check dam, designed to slow down flooding water from burst riverbanks during the rainy seasons.

The absence of disaster-resilient homes in the communities around the newly constructed CIBO Evacuation Centre in Mangochi resulted in the affected population displaced and seeking shelter in structures that are not safe, making them vulnerable to other risks and slowing down their recovery ability.

The stronger and more resilient Evacuation Centre that has been constructed in the area now provides a safe haven during floods and will help enhance the disaster response and recovery management in the area.

A holistic protection during disasters

Each Evacuation Centre that has been constructed under the project accommodates a maximum of 200 people and has separate rooms for males and females, a store room and an office room.

The Centers also have separately constructed indoor kitchens located close to the main premises to ensure easy accessibility.  Further to this, all the rooms and the outside premises of the Centers use  solar energy, an efficient and renewable solution to meet the energy needs of the Centers during disasters. There are also separate male and female pit latrines and bath shelter and the provision of clean drinking water through boreholes that were drilled on sites to ensure potable water and good sanitation.

The project has also provided non-food items for the Evacuation Centers including water buckets, kitchen utensils and IEC materials.

There are also accessibility options to cater for the needs of those with limited walking abilities and wheelchair users.

The responsible Committees and selected community members have also been equipped and trained in Camp Management, Disaster preparedness, response and recovery information.

As a committee, we have learnt that our roles go beyond maintaining the facilities. We will also ensure that we follow camp management procedures that we have been taught about. We have learnt that going through natural disasters like floods, does not mean that human rights cease to exist We will therefore ensure that human rights are not abused amongst those seeking shelter here and that there are no cases of Gender Based Violence, and that children are protected always.,” said Harrison Katema, one of the Committee members for the Evacuation Center in Mangochi district.

As a resource mobilization and sustainability strategy, the facilities will also serve the community as multi-purpose structure for community based activities that will help bring in revenue

All the interventions under the project are being coordinated by the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DODMA) as the lead implementing agency, and working closely with the Department of Housing and Buildings to ensure that all constructed structures adhere to the required building standards. Other responsible parties also include the Department of Water Resources and all the District Councils in the 5 targeted districts.

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