Floods, droughts and strong winds continue to pose serious threats to life and property across Malawi, with women, children, the elderly and other vulnerable groups the most affected by the devastating effects. Between 1974 and 2019, more than 25 million people have been affected by these hazards, which are becoming more frequent, intense and unpredictable.
In 2019, Cyclone Idai, left devastating challenges in a country that is already battling with other social economic issues. The heavy rains and flooding linked to cyclone Idai, killed 60 people, displaced nearly 87,000 people and affected around 870,000 persons in Malawi.
It is now close to a year after Cyclone Idai, as communities are slowly rebuilding their lives. The community of Duwanya village in Chikwawa District is one of the many areas where hundreds of people were displaced due to the floods and were left homeless, with months spent in displaced camps
With over 278 families, the new community of Duwanya that reallocated to safer grounds, is one of the villages where UNDP Malawi is supporting to build stronger, as part of the recovery efforts for communities affected by disasters such as the devastation of Cyclone Idai.
UNDP Malawi is committed to implementing both the global and local Gender Equality Strategy within a broader framework of incorporating social inclusion in activity implementation so that we leave no one behind.
In recognition of the vulnerabilities and lower capacities of female - headed households to recover from the effects of disasters, in its partnership with Habitat Humanity, UNDP Malawi constructed 20 resilient houses with 20 toilet units, of which 17 were for the female headed households.
With the use of resilient and low carbon construction materials, the houses have been built using bricks that are up to 3 times stronger than conventional burnt bricks, and which on average saves up to 14 trees per house built. This also supports UNDP Malawi’s commitment to ensuring that environmental sustainability is fully integrated across all its work; as a fundamental aspect to the achievement of the sustainable development goals.
Aged and disabled, 72-year-old Mr Kambewa Singano is affected by poverty dimensions which worsen the experience of upheavals to a way of life because recovery in such cases is nigh impossible. He sits outside his newly constructed house. His old house that had been built with mud and grass-thatched roof, required frequent repairs, and could not withstand the effects of Cyclone Idai.
He explains how the new house has given him a sense of relief, as he could not have been able to build another house, due to his old age, economic challenges, health issues; and living with a disability. It was four years ago, whilst working in his rice field, when he stepped on a sharp stick. Despite his attempts to seek medical help, the wound became infected and his leg had to be amputated to save his life.
Mr. Kambewa is no longer able to work on his old farm, which was his only source of livelihood, so he rents out the land to other farmers. However, there are periods when there is no one interested to rent the land, which also affects his ability to support his ailing wife, of whom he is also the primary caregiver.
By improving his standards of living with the new stronger house, Mr. Kambewa feels that some of his burdens have been eased.
Mr. Kambewa’s story is a reflection on how Malawi’s most vulnerable populations are facing ever-increasing risks, food insecurity, limited opportunities and few chances to break through poverty traps and build better lives; because of climate change.
It is for these reasons and more, that UNDP Malawi has scaled up its efforts to help find lasting solutions for communities at risk of disasters and ensure that they are more resilient and have acquired the capacity that helps them to adapt and mitigate such devastating effects.
Another beneficiary of the resilient houses built at Duwanya village, is Fanny Keyala, a 36 years old mother, who is single-handedly raising her 4 kids. She expressed nothing but exhilaration for her new home. Fanny is a small-scale business owner and her makeshift stall stands next to her new house, where she lays out the different items that she sells.
Supporting women like her enables UNDP to not just respond to the immediate emergency needs of affected women, but also contribute to their strategic long- term interests through interventions that address household stability for strengthening livelihoods.
"I lost everything in the floods and was living in the camps, with no home and nowhere to start from. I have so much joy in my heart, which is now at peace knowing that I have a home. I am now able to focus on other things like growing my business”, said Fanny.
The project has also helped the community with the provision of accessible running water, from a borehole that has been constructed. The toilet and bathroom units constructed for each house have also gone a long way in improving the sanitation and hygiene for the community.
The new village stands as a role model community with the 20 houses lined up in neat arrangements. Other people nearby are also emulating from the building style of the houses and opting to build stronger houses of their own.
The community members have also become advocates on early warning issues and use their experience to create awareness to other communities who are unwilling to relocate to safer areas.
Andrew Henry is one of the youthful community development leaders in the village, who dedicates his time and skills to help his community build back stronger. He says there is now a spirit of teamwork and ownership of the development activities that are taking shape.
“There is a lot of willingness amongst us. We all sit together to plan and agree on what activities to focus on to help our village. When there is a need for financial contributions, we are also willing to part with any small amount we can afford, because we can all see the different things taking place that are helping improve our village, that we all get to benefit”, said Henry.
Next to the houses, is a nursery full of tree seedlings that they will soon replant, as part of their reforestation activities for all the trees that were cut down as they were settling in the area.
Although the community of Duwanya still faces possible threats of hunger, because of the time spent at the displaced camps meant no time or available land for them to farm, there is still a lot of optimism with their journey to building back stronger than before.
One of their key missions is to now come up with an irrigation scheme along the banks of a nearby stream, as part of their lasting economic empowerment solutions that will also increase their food and nutrition security.
The women of Duwanya also highlight their mission to look for opportunities that will help ensure that they all become economically empowered.
The community of Duwanya is just the tip of the many communities displaced almost on a yearly basis due to floods and would find themselves in temporary camps, which would cause a lot of disruptions in their lives.
This is therefore a sustainable recovery strategy that provides a safe, permanent haven, able to withstand future shocks, to the most vulnerable, who now hold the required ownership legal documents of the new sites; of which they now call home.
There is still a long way to go, but the strong and resilient houses that have been constructed in Duwanya village will now help accelerate their recovery and create greater resilience, in their journey to fully recovery, after Cyclone Idai.