Malawi floods: Govt to roll out response plan

Around 50 people have been killed & 153 others are still missing following six days of torrential rain.

Residents of Blantyre queue for safe drinking water on 21 January 2015 after floods contaminated the local water supply. Picture: Aletta Gardner/EWN

BLANTYRE - Malawi's temporary response plan to the floods is due to be rolled out in the coming days following a briefing by the Department of Disaster Management to the country's Vice President Saulos Chilima on Wednesday.

The latest situation report from the government estimates that 50 people have been killed and 153 others are missing.

This is in stark contrast to an earlier reported death toll of more than 200, which officials in Lilongwe say was a misrepresentation of people unaccounted for.

A further 121,000 people have lost their homes to the storm, which started at the beginning of last week and is only subsiding now.

In addition to this, the state says 200,000 pupils will not be able to attend schools because the buildings have either been destroyed or are being used as temporary shelters in the wake of the devastation.

The report recommends 800 tents be set up as temporary classrooms while 'school-in-a-box kits' are prepared to supplement the loss of study material.

But of greater concern to the disaster management team is disease outbreaks, which it says is becoming more probable 'considering poor sanitation conditions' at the camps where the displaced people have been moved.

Doctors Without Borders says a third of children under the age of five that its staff treated in a village along the southern part of the Shire river are suffering from diarrhoea, due to the lack of clean drinking water.

"IT WAS RAINING EVERY MINUTE, NIGHT AND DAY"

Evidence of the floods that affected half of the country is hard to find while driving on Blantyre's main roads.

At face value, one could be forgiven for thinking the town was unaffected, though a brief conversation with a man on a street quickly reveals otherwise.

Speaking outside the Victoria Hotel, two of its employees, reluctant to reveal their names, described the weather as grim and merciless.

"We had no sunlight. It was raining every minute, night and day. The rain didn't stop for six days straight. Some have lost their houses, some have lost their lives and others lost their crops because this is the planting season," the man said.

His colleague then quickly interrupted him, to describe the wrath of the storm.

"Goats, cows and pigs were washed away into the river. One family lost their father and son when their house collapsed. His body has not been recovered."

The district has been somewhat transformed into an operational hub for relief and rescue groups, with United Nations staff in flack jackets and non-government organisations visible at several hotels and lodges.

Most of the teams have been working in Chikwawa, Phalombe and Nsanje; low lying areas in the south of the country that are notorious for flooding during seasonal rains.

This is where Rescue South Africa aims to conduct relief aid missions, which may include the reconstruction of a bridge and some parts of the road that was washed away by the week- long storm.

Swollen rivers and the lush green landscape offer evidence of the heavy rains that have lashed Malawi in January 2015.

RESCUE SA LEFT HIGH & DRY IN FLOOD-STRICKEN MALAWI

The decision to change plans was only made late on Wednesday night, after the rescue group was told it would only be able to get its cargo from South Africa next week.

The cancellation of an SAA freight flight to Blantyre on Wednesday has left the 23-member team without their rescue equipment, food, water and camping gear.

The official reason for the cancellation is understood to be the absence of a temporary export permit, needed before the supplies can leave the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.

For now, the team has been frustrated by the delay, but aren't throwing in the towel just yet.

Rescue SA CEO Ian Scher told Eyewitness News that they're now consulting with private businessmen in Blantyre who have been coordinating other relief efforts.

"We've come here and we're determined to help, even if it means we change tracks a little bit. Whether our equipment arrives here or not, we will help the Malawian citizens," he said.

Images by Aletta Gardner