Children Hit Hard as Cyclone Freddy Sweeps Across Southern Malawi
14-year-old Chrissy* from Blantyre feels lucky to be alive but she is afraid of the uncertainty of life following the disaster that struck her home.
Her parents’ house has been damaged by Cyclone Freddy induced floods which hit her area on Sunday.
The house survived the heavy rains and damaging winds as the cyclone made landfall in Malawi on Sunday, 12th March 2023, only to succumb the following day.
“We were lucky we were outside as the floods came, so we have been spared but some of my clothes have gone, my school books have been socked and damaged and I don’t know how I will be able to continue with learning once the schools open because I don’t have any materials and my father relies on piece work to carter for our needs,” Chrissy narrates.
Chrissy and her family will also need to find other means of finding food as the current situation is not allowing her father to look and do any piece work which is a critical source of money for food for the family.
Chrissy Mother says she doesn’t know what to do. She says her hopes lie in well-wishers for support.
“This disaster has affected us to the extent that we don’t know what to do, we have lost almost everything, our house has been destroyed, the food we had in the house including the maize floor is gone, and now my husband relies on piece works which are scarce in this bad weather, “she says.
Chrissy’s fears are echoed by James, * aged 16, whose house has also been damaged resulting into the loss of property and critical food supplies.
James says, following the floods, the house first began leaking from the floor before part of it fell to the ground.
“As I am speaking right now, we don’t have food to eat and we are living in fear because we don’t really know what happens next and we feel we are no longer safe,” says James.
But the two childrens’ problems go beyond loss of property, lack of food and safety.
They are among thousands of children who are not going to school after the government temporarily closed all learning centres in the affected districts to protect children from effects of the cyclone.
This is not the first time Chrissy currently in standard 7 and James a standard 8 learners at Namatete Primary school, are failing to attend classes on reasons beyond their control.
In January this year, learners in the region started their first term late after the government announced a two-week long closure of schools due to the cholera outbreak Malawi is still fighting.
Months after the schools opened, the schools have closed again, and even if they may open soon, affected children may not have all the necessary support from home as their parents too have no means to do so.
“I haven’t been in class for two days now due to the cyclone and I am not even sure when the schools will open,” Chrissy tells me.
James is also afraid that the cyclone will affect his education.
“Apparently, I have lost all my school books and clothes, which I am afraid will affect preparations for the examinations we are starting next week,” James says.
Chrissy and James are among hundreds of children who have been in one way or the other been affected by the cyclone which has hit ten districts across the southern region.
The Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DODMA) says Blantyre which has recorded 85 deaths including children and women is the worst affected though other quarters say the figure could be much higher since the search for those missing is still underway.
At Naotcha in Chilobwe, councillor for the area Leonard Chimbanga says atleast 378 children have been affected.
Visiting some of the affected people living in some camps in Blantyre, Minister of Health, Hon. Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda expressed shock at the devastation the disaster have had especially on children.
“For the children, because their needs are different, we are talking to our partners to meet their nutritional and other needs, it is really sad that some of the most affected are children, babies actually, so as the government, we will work hard to ensure children are protected and we are grateful for all the people who have come in to support us,” Kandodo Chiponda said.
Malawi’s Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services (DCCMS) on 9th March projected that Tropical Cyclone Freddy would hit Malawi with strong winds, heavy rains and flooding.
Freddy has come at a time when Malawi is grappling to contain its worst Cholera Outbreak, and some gains of reduced deaths and infections were on decline trajectory. These gains will however be lost as flooding from the cyclone will likely undermine the fight.
Meanwhile a national Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) has been established in Malawi’s commercial city of Blantyre to facilitate coordination of preparedness and response interventions. Government plans to have EOC in the affected districts in order to enhance district level coordination. The humanitarian response in Malawi is led and coordinated by the Government through the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA) and related emergency coordination mechanisms referred to as clusters.
Save the Children has activated emergency response and has so far deployed staff to be part of the EOC, deployed its Emergency Health Unit to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Blantyre to help with injuries, and is supporting interagency rapid assessment.
As a precautionary measure, the ministry of education has suspended physical classes in all affected districts to 20th March 2023 although this will may depend on improved situation as more impacts are being reported even though the cyclone has weakened.
* We have not used real names of the children on safegurding grounds