Joana from Nsanje district will never forget the day her village was flooded. Heavy rains fell non-stop for more than 3 days, with extreme winds being too much for her house to withstand.
There was no time to gather her household items as she and her 6 children rushed in the dark and through rising water as they navigated to higher ground.
Cyclone Idai hit Malawi on the 5th of March 2019, causing severe flooding across 15 districts and two cities in the southern region of the country. Malawi’s neighbouring countries, Mozambique and Zimbabwe suffered even worse.
More than 868,900 people have been affected in Malawi, with an estimated 60 deaths and 672 injuries, with thousands of people displaced from their homes.
It has been six weeks since the floods hit, and Joana speaks with an air of hope as flood waters receded, roads and bridges are being repaired, traders are reopening their shops, and livestock are grazing again.
But for Joana and thousands of other people, the possibility of immediately recovering from the effects that Cyclone Idai are still out of reach, specifically for those whose houses were destroyed. Many people in Nsanje are living in Bangula Camp which is one of the biggest displacement camps set up after the floods.
Joana shares, “I cannot wait to go back home. I miss the daily activities from having my own house and waking up early in the morning to sweep around my home and cook for my family. I miss my relatives and my community. We still go out to visit some of our relatives who did not lose their homes. But this is still not our home.”
With 6 children ranging from the ages of 8 to 16 years old, the 36 years old single mother no longer has a home to call her own. She lost her crops that were nearing harvest on her small farming land, she lost most of her household items that took her years to purchase from many different odd jobs. While the camp may provide a temporary haven, life in a camp is not ideal for Joana and her kids.
“I am not here because I choose to. Some people think we are here for the free items that they give us. But who would choose to live like this?”, Joana says. “I sleep with my children on the same mat, my sons sleep in the men’s camp away from me with other men that are older and are strangers to us. This worries me; and it is not our tradition for young boys to sleep in the same room with grown men. We have no bathrooms available here, so I wait until it is dark and hide behind a bush to bath. It is not a dignified thing to do for a woman, and this also puts us women at risk. Since I came to the camp; it has been a challenge for me to find work and earn extra money to top up on what the camp doesn’t provide for my kids.” she explains.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), as the coordinator for early recovery within the UN system, is working with the Government of Malawi and other partners to reconstruct damaged houses and community infrastructure affected by the floods. Claire Medina, UNDP Resident Representative, a.i. stated ‘Extreme weather events such as Cyclone Idai shows the importance of investing in climate-smart infrastructure to protect people, property and livelihoods”.
While Joana and her family still face many challenges, early recovery efforts by UNDP and other UN partners are focusing on building back better by repairing damaged infrastructure such as irrigation schemes, water points, and, importantly, restoring housing that can withstand future shocks.