2019 CYCLONE IDIA RELIEF STORIES
2019 Cyclone Idia passed over Africa
By Tom Gebhard
When Cyclone Idia passed over Africa, a lot of media attention was focused on the impacts of floods and winds on structures in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Malawi suffered flooding in the Shire (pronounced She-ray) Valley where water inundated surrounding land. It caused washouts of crops and livestock, loss of housing, and stranding residents on pockets of high land. Malawians were rescued by boat and by helicopter.
Malawi suffered more damage during a storm that occurred a couple of weeks prior to Idia, leaving the land saturated with water which exacerbated the impact of the cyclone. The prior storm was five days of constant, often intense, rainfall that covered all of southern Malawi. Rainfall data is sketchy, but some rainfall gages reported up to 1 foot in a 24-hour period. Some streams became torrents of rushing water, and flat lands or plateau tops could not drain. Residents reported standing water from 3 inches to a foot deep in places where standing water had never previously been. In the worst cases, mud bricks for houses or building walls just liquified leaving only a mound of mud. Churches and schools that had concrete foundations and stable roofs became places of refuge for the community. One church reported having 4 inches of standing water, and yet it was completely full with standing residents, including children and babies, occupying the high, dry, ground of the altar area. They remained there for over a day. Flood waters contaminated many boreholes, but the government’s quick response to chlorinate and pump has restored clean water throughout the region. The initial five day storm created the misery of flooding that was then followed by the rains of Cyclone Idia which made it worse, both physically and mentally for the residents.
Each area of southern Malawi has its own story of impact and reaction. Following are two examples in areas over 100 kilometers apart with different drainage patterns.
Dorothy Nicholas of Shire Parish
Shire Parish is north of Blantyre and southwest of the Shire River, whose headwaters are Lake Malawi. It’s part of a plateau region above the Shire River valley. In earlier years, Dorothy was a great matron of the local Anglican church, as she donated the land for a church that was built prior to 2002 and for the rectory that was built in 2008. Her house was made of mud bricks and is located about 100 meters from the church and rectory. Dorothy is a widow who lost her four children to AIDS and lives alone with four grandchildren. She has undefined pain in her legs and cannot easily walk, even with a staff. Most of her days are spent sitting on the ground in front of her house directing the activities of her grandchildren. When the rains began, Dorothy moved inside her house with the grandchildren. On the second day the Rector, The Rev. Andrew Manda, came to visit and to check on her and her family. When the Rector returned on the third day, he found her sitting outside in the rain. One of the walls had collapsed exposing two bed rooms, he asked her to move into the church building with other families. Dorothy declined, saying that she wanted to stay with her belongings and with her home until she died. Not only had she lost the wall for the two bedrooms, but she had also lost her outdoor kitchen, her toilet and her bathroom, all of which were liquifying and becoming heaps of mud as seen in the picture below. After some intense discussions and counseling she agreed to move to the church on the condition that the Rector would store her bags of belongings in his house to prevent theft. They then began to walk slowly, with assistance, through water depths of 6 inches to a foot to get to the church. Dorothy spent most of the fourth day of rain, sleeping in a dry location.
Once the rains stopped and the area dried, Dorothy has moved back into her damaged house where she still spends most days sitting outside on the ground. She lost her food stores. When asked how the family eats today, I was told that the Rector and others let the grandchildren into their gardens. When asked what they did before the storm, I was told that besides the gardens of others, her grandchildren were allowed to scavenge the fields after harvest for edible remnants. Dorothy’s house is permanently and irreparably damaged. Eventually, parish members will assist by making fired bricks, pouring a concrete foundation, building a brick house and a roof of steel sheets. Building supplies are being made available to those in the community that are rebuilding with appropriate materials.
The Mofolo Family of Njovu Parish
On the second day of rain, the Rector, The Rev. Hamiza Adams, of Njovu (pronounced Joe-vuu) Parish began to get requests to open the church to allow refuge from the flooding. Permission was quickly granted by the Diocesan Office. Standing water in the community exceeded two foot depths. On the fourth day of rain the church was full. After the rains had stopped at the end of the fifth day, the Rector began to task of locating parishioners. He was surprised to find only four families missing from the church. He went to the UNESCO camp at the nearby Catholic Church and School where he found three of the four families. He commandeered a boat and went to look for the home of the missing family. The Rev. Adams found the elderly couple, the Mofolo family, sitting on top of a mound of mud. They told him that the mound of mud contained all their belonging – their household goods, their food stores, animals, and everything they had. He asked them to get in the boat and move to the church. They refused as they wanted to die near their belongings. Their story was that on the second day of rain, they were huddled in their home made of mud bricks and brought their animals inside to be with them. As the water continued to rise from the overflow of a nearby river, their mud bricks began to liquify and their roof was dropping. Eventually, they escaped the house, but animals and all belongings were lost to the mud heap. After lengthy discussion and counseling, the couple got in the boat and moved to the church.
Currently, the Mofolos are living on top of the mud heap, in temporary housing erected by their neighbors, who created a wooden frame from branches and covered the walls with mud which dried to provide privacy for the home. They feel fortunate to have survived.
A few refugee camps have been created by international relief agencies. Initially, they are helpful in supplying safe shelter, food, and medications. Their objective is to provide transitional aid so that the populations served do not become dependent on assistance but instead returns to normality or near normality. In one refugee camp that was open near Njovu, the population of the camp had dropped from a high of 3,000 to 1,000 in one month. As sanitation is poor in the camp, the diseases of Diarrhea and Cholera were rampant and were being treated.
The availability of food was dropping, probably due to lack of availability and as an encouragement to leave. Camp residents are also encouraged to find local employment doing menial work in exchange for food and shelter. As employment is scarce and food became more difficult to obtain, more females exchange sex for food and money. An increase in pregnancies is common in refugee camps. In Njovu, all Anglican church members have left the refugee camp.
The Diocese of Southern Malawi Relief Efforts
The Diocese is focused on relocate, replant, rebuild on higher ground.
Seeds have been distributed in most areas, and second harvests are complete or nearly complete. In some areas, there may be a third crop planting. The second and third plantings will reduce the need for bags of food to be distributed later in the year.
The diocese is encouraging families to rebuild their home on higher grounds. If they must stay in flood plans, then residents should own a second at higher ground that they move to during rainy season. There is a lot of building going on throughout the areas with the worst flooding damage. Some areas still have the temporary tents dotting the villages. Bricks are drying in the sun, piled for firing, or lined up ready to be made into walls.
Flood Survivors Who Are HIV Positive
Malawi has been devastated by AIDS and there are many rural flood survivors that are HIV positive who have lost their medications in the flood. Again, there are many different stories with some being able to get replacement medications with correct dosages. However, there are many without knowledge of their medications. It’s common to hear that high strength medications are provided as replacement medications. To be effective, they have to follow the dose of medication with a nutritious meal in order for the medications to work. As replacement meals are not plentiful, and seldom adequate, the treatment regime is interrupted and patients do not function well. It’s anticipated that a sharp increase in deaths within the HIV positive population will occur three months after the event.
Pilgrimage Update July 2019
By Linda Gebhard
The 2019 pilgrims to Malawi visited Shire Parish. Upon arriving at the rectory and a wonderful greeting by the women in the village, we walked to a nearby mud pit where brick making was well under way. As one group of men kept the mud mix going, another group packed the wooden molds with the fresh mud while taking care to avoid air bubbles, the pilgrims hauled the molds to a spot in the sun and removed the mud to make the brick. We continued this for a few hours until we were out of mud and it was time for lunch. The pilgrims helped provide entertainment as we learned to do all aspects of the job, proving that we were the best at setting the bricks out to dry in the hot winter sun.
Before lunch, we had the great honor of meeting Dorothy Nicholas whose story is told above. As we came around the corner of her house, there she sat with her grandchildren on a mat in front of her house. The bricks we were working on were for her house. She remembered the visit of Tom Gebhard and was happy to have had her story told. She is truly appreciative of all the work that is being done on her behalf. Below are pictures of the collapsed wall that has been partially repaired for privacy, and pictures of Dorothy and pilgrims in front of her house.