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Malawi Floods: Dyke offers hope to Mlowe communities

Written by  Tione Andsen
Recently constructed Mlowe dyke Pic by Tione Andsen -Mana Recently constructed Mlowe dyke Pic by Tione Andsen -Mana

Lilongwe, March 22, 2019: For years, February, 1992, will remain a nightmare to Kingsley Ngwira, 61, of Mlowe in Rumphi District.

He experienced one of the worst floods of South Rukuru River which swept away crops, animals and destroyed many houses. 

Ngwira fails to come to terms with reality of life considering how much he lost in value, including what his relatives and neighbours were robbed of.

“I was only two years in marriage with my longtime girlfriend, Veronica, when the catastrophe befell us and the entire community,” he says.

For years, the peasant famer had been pondering on possible ways to prevent recurrence of floods from causing havoc again to the area.

But he had no answer insight in that for the past 27 years Ngwira and communities along the river were living in constant fear particularly during rainy season.

“At the onset of every rain season we became worried because we anticipated recurrence of floods as the river’s levels rose threateningly,” he says.

To this effect, communities of Mlowe had been calling for a permanent solution to the threat the river was posing every year.

In 2017, Mlowe Civil Protection Committee (CPC) took up a task and wrote a disaster management proposal which was submitted to Rumphi District Council for possible action.

The council forwarded the proposal to Department of Disasters Management Affairs (DoDMA) for consideration.

Mlowe CPC proposed the construction of a dyke along the river as a permanent solution to the perennial threat to lives and property.

Government, through the DoDMA, immediately approved the proposal and released funds towards the dyke project.

Acting Traditional Authority (TA) Mwamlowe hailed the government for responding positively to their proposal.

“Particularly, we have to also commend Mlowe CPC for championing the efforts to have the dyke constructed in the area.

“The CPC has been so instrumental in the drive to have the dyke in place. Communities now feel secure and safe from any threats of flooding,” he says.

Mwamlowe says now that the dyke is in place, communities have put in place bylaws to protect the structure and ensure a long lifespan.

“We need to provide extra care for it to last long. This development is quite commendable and people of Mlowe will always remember this for many years to come,” he says.

Chairperson of the Mlowe Dyke project Gladson Nyasulu says construction of the dyke started in July and ended in December, 2018.

“Generally, there was total cooperation among the contractor, communities working on the project and traditional leaders in the implementation process,” he says.

Nyasulu adds that the contractor employed 60 members from the community comprising 30 women and 30 men.

Initially, the unskilled workers were getting K1, 000 per day and the payment was later increased to K1, 200 after considering some underlining factors which were there.

“We had overwhelming support from communities and traditional leaders which made our committee to oversee the project without difficulties,” the chairperson says. 

He adds that it is that sense of ownership of the project that led to formulation the bylaws to govern the protection of the dyke.

“For instance, people are not allowed to cultivate 30 metres from the dyke as a way of ensuring that the soils holding the dyke are not disturbed,” Nyasulu says.

Meanwhile, most households that were directly involved in the project have experienced an economic boost.

“Whatever they were getting from the project, they were able to buy basic needs and support their families,” says the project committee’s vice secretary Lucy Chihombo.

She, therefore, says such government funded projects need to be spread to other areas where communities demonstrate willingness to participate in development agenda.

Mlowe’s Agricultural Extension Development Officer (AEDO) Andrew Chapitauko says CPC need to be empowered so that issues of natural disaster are looked at urgently to prevent natural calamities.

Chipitauko says, as an extension officer, he would ensure that communities plant trees around the dyke to offer protection.

“We have requested the Rumphi District agriculture office to provide us with tree seedlings and vetiver grass to plant around the dyke during this rain season.

“We are waiting to get the much-needed support in the next 10 days as indicated by the office,” Chapitauko says.

A community member Henry Mhango says the dyke has provided a window of hope to them in that people will now cultivate their pieces of land without fear of losing crops to floods.

“We have very good alluvial soils that are highly productive. The coming in of the dyke has encouraged us to think outside the box on how best we can transform Mlowe into an agricultural area.

“We are very grateful to the government for funding the project,” Mhango says.

He believes that Non-Government Organisation (NGOs) which were failing to come and assist the communities with their agriculture activities will now come forth with support as there is surety of safety in the area.

“If we can be empowered with farm inputs such as seeds, fertiliser, treadle and motorized pumps, Mlowe can turn into a food basket for the northern region,” Mhango says.

The area has rich soils for the production of crops like maize, cassava, sweet potatoes, rice, tomato, onions and cabbage.

Mlowe’s estimated terrain elevation above sea level is 499 metres and is situated along Lake Malawi.

The South Rukuru River flows through the area to empty its waters into the lake hence making the place susceptible to floods.

Principal Hydrologist in the Ministry of Agriculture and Water Development Hastings Mbale says the dyke is 1.4 km long and it has been constructed to the tune of K298 million.

He says after the 2015 natural disasters which occurred in some parts of the country, the ministry, through DODMA, resolved to ensure implementation of disaster management projects in which communities need help.

“We have done similar projects of disaster mitigation in eight other districts of Karonga, Salima, Ntcheu, Phalombe, Machinga, Mulanje, Chikwawa and Nsanje.

“We have done a number of interventions such as construction of dykes, dams and river lining,” Mbale says.

Minister of Agriculture and Water Development Joseph Mwanamvekha says government has prioritised its development initiatives aimed at preventing loss of life and property in times of natural disasters.

“The interventions that we have put in place will help to ensure that communities are no longer prone to disaster occurrences.

“We thank our development partners, particularly the World Bank, for the financial support which has enabled us to execute some of the disaster management projects which have true bearing to communities’ lives,” he says.