Cyclone Idai: 'Complete devastation' on Malawi-Mozambique border

A scene of devastation in Malawi after Cyclone Idai and Gavin Douglas (inset). Photo: Concern Worldwide
A scene of devastation in Malawi after Cyclone Idai and Gavin Douglas (inset). Photo: Concern Worldwide

A Concern worker has described scenes of “complete desolation” following a visit by boat to villages and towns cut off by flood waters in one of the worst hit areas along the Malawi/Mozambique border.

‘Complete devastation’

Concern's Gavin Douglas has spent the last week documenting the emergency response to Cyclone Idai in Malawi. Speaking on RTE Radio’s Morning Ireland, he said it’s hard to put the scale of the devastation into words.

“It's complete devastation. The floods have washed away whole villages” he said.

Some places are complete ghost towns. Most of the time, we've had to travel by boat, since some of the worst-affected villages are only reachable that way.”

Gavin Douglas

During his trip to an area south of Nsanje on the southern tip of Malawi, he met a number of local people who had returned to fish for food and to start repairing their homes.

“They were too frightened to bring their families back with them in case the floods would return,” he said.

People have lost everything

“The floods came so fast, they left with only the clothes on their backs and a few bits and pieces. They have lost everything. The strength of the floods took everything with it.

“There is nothing left on the ground, only soaked earth. They have lost vast amounts of crops they were relying on.”  

Gavin and the Concern team left their boat at one point and trekked across a field to visit a village a few kilometres inland.

“It was hard to believe that last month this was a maize field almost ready for harvest,” he said.

Now it resembled a bog with large streams of water flowing through it. We were knee deep in mud by the time we got to the village.”

Gavin Douglas

Many of the residents they met during their trip had returned to fish, as there is a shortage of food in the displacement camps where people had fled to.

“The only thing on the minds of the people I met during our trip was food and shelter,” he said.  

Concern staff with help from the Malawi Defence Forces assess the damage to communities along the river Shire. This one has been completely submerged. A few local men have come back by canoe to assess the damage for themselves. Photo: Gavin Douglas/ Concern Worldwide
Concern staff with help from the Malawi Defence Forces assess the damage to communities along the river Shire. This one has been completely submerged. A few local men have come back by canoe to assess the damage for themselves. Photo: Gavin Douglas/ Concern Worldwide

Idai’s impact

Over 800,000 people have been affected by the flooding in the wake of Cyclone Idai in Malawi, with 87,000 displaced, 59 dead and 672 injured.

The districts of Nsanje and Phalombe in southern Malawi (where Concern has been working for a number of years) are among the worst areas affected by flooding.

Concern's response

We are working with staff to construct latrines and bathrooms and to provide safe water supplies.

In the coming days, we will commence distributing emergency kits containing essential items such as plastic sheeting, cooking utensils, mosquito nets and soap to those who are displaced.

We are aiming to provide relief support to 45,000 people in the coming days and weeks. With rain continuing to fall, the flood waters are only subsiding slowly.

However, once they decline sufficiently to allow people return home, they will have a short time period to plant a ‘winter’ crop.

“If they do not plant by April (for a crop which will be ready in June/July) they will have to wait until October to plant the summer crops which will not be ready to harvest until this time next year,” Concern’s Country Director in Malawi Yousaf Jogezai said.

Concern will provide people with tools and seeds, along with cash transfers to assist people restore their homes and non-agriculture livelihoods. It is aiming to assist 90,000 people with these supports.

“Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world with very little capacity to respond to a natural disaster of this scale,” Concern's CEO Dominic MacSorley said.

You can help

We have launched an emergency appeal to help those in need in Malawi. Not only are people in desperate need right now, but almost all crops — which were ready to harvest — have been lost to the floods. Please help by donating what you can. 

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