Malawi church continues response to Cyclone Freddy

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Key Points:

  • The tropical cyclone brought devastating rains, floods and mudslides to southern Malawi, killing at least 447 people.
  • United Methodists are partnering with the government and others to meet immediate needs and plan for long-term recovery.
  • Once funds are mobilized and outsourced, the Malawi church expects to target 3,000 families (around 15,000 people) living in the most severely affected communities or camps.

More than a month after Tropical Cyclone Freddy romped through the southern Indian Ocean, survivors continue to mourn the loss of loved ones, homes, churches and entire communities.

United Methodists are partnering with the government and others to meet immediate needs and plan for long-term recovery.

In mid-February and early March, Freddy bounced along the southeastern coast of Africa, hitting Madagascar, Mozambique and Malawi and killing more than 500 people. Most of the deaths were in southern Malawi as the weather system brought devastating rains, floods and mudslides.

The United Methodist Church has local congregations in most of the affected districts in Malawi. Members lost properties, houses, crops and livestock. Most of the United Methodist church buildings in these areas also collapsed.

“We are one another’s keeper,” said the Rev. Ephraim Kambona, a district superintendent in south Malawi. “The Bible says it is more blessed to give than to receive. Faith without action is futile; hence, the call to rise in unity to support those affected by Cyclone Freddy.”

People watch as bodies are dug from the rubble near Mount Soche in Blantyre, Malawi.  Tropical Cyclone Freddy was a long-lived, powerful and deadly storm that traversed the southern Indian Ocean for more than five weeks in February and March. Photo by Francis Nkhoma, UM News. 

People watch as bodies are dug from the rubble near Mount Soche in Blantyre, Malawi. Tropical Cyclone Freddy was a long-lived, powerful and deadly storm that traversed the southern Indian Ocean for more than five weeks in February and March. Photo by Francis Nkhoma, UM News.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief provided two initial $10,000 grants to The United Methodist Church in Mozambique to provide emergency food rations and basic hygiene supplies for survivors in Mananjara, Madagascar and the Zambezia Province of Mozambique. UMCOR awarded an additional solidarity grant to the African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of its partners, for assistance and relief for vulnerable families in Malawi.

Among the hardest hit regions in Malawi were the Balaka, Bethlehem, Mpenya, Mulanje, Ngabu, Nsanje and Zomba circuits.

According to the Department of Disaster Management Affairs, more than half a million people were affected. Across 13 districts, 183,000 people were displaced as of mid-March. The figures are expected to rise, especially in areas still cut off from communication and electric power such as Nsanje, Chikwawa, Mulanje and Phalombe.

The Malawi government listed immediate needs including shelter items (tarps, family tents, plastic sheets, blankets and sleeping mats); household goods (lamps, dishes and cooking pots); health care necessities (dignity kits, mosquito nets and mobile clinic services); clothing; sanitation essentials (portable commodes, water-treatment chemicals, soap and buckets); and food (maize flour, corn-soya blend, cooking oil, vegetables, dry fish, sugar and salt).

“The rainy season started in November, and many roads and bridges have already collapsed or have been cut off,” said Kephus Mtambo, a project leader for The United Methodist Church in Malawi. “With very poor road infrastructure, access to most of the territory represents a real challenge to the church and, even worse, to the most affected areas.”

Rocks falling from Mount Soche in Blantyre, Malawi, during Tropical Cyclone Freddy in February and March destroyed buildings and trees. The United Methodist Church has local parishes in the affected areas and churchgoers report losing family members, houses, crops and livestock. Photo by Francis Nkhoma, UM News. 

Rocks falling from Mount Soche in Blantyre, Malawi, during Tropical Cyclone Freddy in February and March destroyed buildings and trees. The United Methodist Church has local parishes in the affected areas and churchgoers report losing family members, houses, crops and livestock. Photo by Francis Nkhoma, UM News.

Lawrence Msaleni, Naotcha Primary School headmaster, witnessed families washed away. “Seeing my house being destroyed and other houses being slinked in the mud with people inside, the elderly failing to run and people not being able to rescue their loved ones,” he said, “has been traumatizing.”

Most displaced people are living in tents, schools and church buildings, Mtambo said. The government has established 317 camps across 12 affected districts. Safe drinking water is a critical need for at least 2,000 families (approximately 10,000 people), he added.

To donate

To help with recovery efforts after Cyclone Freddy, you can give to United Methodist Committee on Relief’s International Disaster Response and Recovery through Advance #982450.

Elitah Chipala, whose husband died two years ago, lost her son. “I never dreamed of seeing my son being washed away by water like that,” she said. “We tried to rescue him, but we could not.” She is living in the Manja Primary School camp.

Grace Mankhwazi’s son, 13, remains missing as Malawi Defense Force and community volunteers dig up bodies. “At least, if I can just see a body,” she said. “I have been searching and asking around.”

Leonard Namauzongo, a member of Galileya United Methodist Church, recalled the storm’s immense power as wind and rain battered his home.  

“All of sudden, I saw my bedroom side cracking,” he said. “I encouraged my wife and kids to go outside, though it was still raining. We started removing important items from the house. Thank God, my family survived, though our house got damaged.”

Petros Janga stands by his house, which was completely destroyed after Tropical Cyclone Freddy ravaged southern Malawi. Fortunately, Janga’s family is safe. Most of the United Methodist church buildings in the region also collapsed. Photo by Francis Nkhoma, UM News. 

Petros Janga stands by his house, which was completely destroyed after Tropical Cyclone Freddy ravaged southern Malawi. Fortunately, Janga’s family is safe. Most of the United Methodist church buildings in the region also collapsed. Photo by Francis Nkhoma, UM News.

Respiratory infections, diarrhea and cholera threaten survivors who come in contact with polluted water. “In this context,” said Maurice Solola, Malawi Provisional Conference acting health coordinator, “children, women and the elderly are especially vulnerable.”

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Group Village Headman Chief Maxwell Thomas Chilobwe is especially concerned about sheltering displaced people.

“More than 181,000 people are living in congested classrooms,” he said. “The people are receiving humanitarian assistance, mainly through the government, civil society and the private sector.”

Babies and pregnant women are among the people living in camps.

“Provision of food rations is important,” Mtambo said, “not only for the population housed in public shelters, but also for those who will be returning to their homes once the water levels descend or the levels of soil saturation by rainfall drop to normal.

“Most vulnerable communities have lost their main food and income source. Due to the loss of harvest in the rural areas, (within) two to three months, this lack of food production might generate a deficit in the food security conditions and have a potential negative impact on coping mechanisms at the household level.”

People sit among blankets and belongings at a refugee camp set up at Manja Primary School in Blantyre after Tropical Cyclone Freddy swept through southern Malawi.  According to the Department of Disaster Management Affairs, more than 500,000 people have been affected, including 183,000 displaced people across 13 districts. Photo by Francis Nkhoma, UM News. 

People sit among blankets and belongings at a refugee camp set up at Manja Primary School in Blantyre after Tropical Cyclone Freddy swept through southern Malawi. According to the Department of Disaster Management Affairs, more than 500,000 people have been affected, including 183,000 displaced people across 13 districts. Photo by Francis Nkhoma, UM News.

Once funds are mobilized and outsourced, the Malawi church expects to target 3,000 families (around 15,000 people) living in the most severely affected communities or camps, Mtambo said, noting that the intervention will consider the special needs of vulnerable groups such as children, women, older adults, the disabled and indigenous minorities.

The next step, he said, is to develop a recovery and rebuilding plan for all affected communities. Long-term plans include planting (provision of seeds), promoting small businesses, and constructing new homes and churches.

The United Methodist Church in Malawi is engaging all church members to contribute toward the relief effort.

“There is no love without giving,” Mtambo said. “Love is not in words, but in good deeds. One way of showing love to our brothers and sisters … is encouraging and reaching out to UMC members to support efforts of relief through financial contributions or donations of items.”

The Malawi church is introducing a relief basket for special offerings.

“The church is also creating spiritual and mental support structures in all affected areas through pastors and worship and spiritual formation committees,” said the Rev. Felix Thawe, Malawi Central North District superintendent.

“Many lost their loved ones, properties and community, and individuals (are) depressed, sad and stressed. With the loss experienced, many are anxious and hopeless about their life and future. This is where the church global should come in and provide mental and spiritual support.”

Nkhoma is a communicator in Malawi.



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