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Plight of people with disabilities in disaster areas

Written by  Steve Chirombo
Yesaya lost his house and household property to stormy rains, Pic by Steve Chirombo -Mana Yesaya lost his house and household property to stormy rains, Pic by Steve Chirombo -Mana

Chikwawa, March 13, 2019: Natural calamities like stormy rains are exposing people especially persons with disabilities to climate change shocks exacerbating their vulnerability.

Such people feel the full brunt of the disasters amid uncertainty to find a safe place and opportunity for resettlement.

On the M1 Road stretch from Nchalo to Dyeratu Trading Centre in Chikwawa District lives Petro Yesaya, a victim of such natural calamities. 

Yesaya, 35, from Kanamala Village near Beleu Trading Centre in the area of Traditional Authority Maseya became destitute after stormy rains destroyed his house on January 10 this year.

“I heard something falling to the ground while in bed. Little did I know that the heavy sound was of the collapsing of my house!

“Immediately, my wife grabbed me by the hand and whisked me and our little child to safety. I thank God, she was alert,” narrates Yesaya who is visually impaired.

“She also tried to salvage some of our kitchen utensils but time was too little because no sooner had she done that, then the rest of the walls crumbled,” he says.

Yesaya and his family sought refuge at a nearby church before his brother offered them accommodation in his house.

“I only ask for some permanent shelter and, of course, some capital to start a business of some kind for the sustenance of my family.

“I am really in a fix; the state in which I am now has put me in awkward situation,” Yesaya says.

The genesis of Yesaya’s plight dates back to 2012 when he was working as a casual labourer at Illovo Estate in Nchalo.

His right eye developed a cataract followed by the left one eight months later, leading to a doctor’s recommendation that the eyes be removed.

He now relies on a small walking stick for directions to places around the home.

“I never expected that one day I would stand in front of people blind. I live a miserable life and my wife has to do everything for me,” Yesaya says.

Yesaya is among thousands of households affected by disasters in the country this rainy season.

Group Village Headman (GVH) Biasi recognizes Yesaya’s household as one of the vulnerable and in need of immediate assistance.

“Empowering Yesaya’s wife would be the best way of alleviating the challenges the household is currently going through,” GVH Biasi says.

Recently, Federation of Disability Organizations in Malawi (FEDOMA) led by its Projects Manager Simon Munde visited Yesaya and other households affected by the stormy rains in Chikwawa and Nsanje to appreciate their challenges.

“The situation has been so pathetic. There have been some interventions aimed at ensuring that people that are perpetually affected by the hazards become resilient by embracing disaster risk management measures,” Munde says.

He adds that FEDOMA had noticed that some persons with disabilities were being targeted in some Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) interventions.

“However, we noted that duty bearers, especially those responsible for distribution of relief food, in Nsanje were quite often sidelining people with disabilities.

“But persons with disabilities are more at risk than those without. In Chikwawa, Yesaya’s story mirrors the challenges that people with disabilities are facing,” Munde says.

He, therefore, says social protection programmes being championed by government should be able to support such kind of people.

“There is need for more knowledge and empowerment on disaster risk management so that persons with disabilities are always alert in such circumstances,” he says.

Munde, therefore, hails government for the various social protection measures especially in the aftermath of the 2015 disasters.

He says moving out people from disaster prone areas was one sustainable means of ensuring survival considering that some households were headed by persons with disabilities.

Chikwawa District Disability Mission Network Coordinator, Pastor Bitten Masamba expresses shock at the way people with disabilities were exposed to natural disasters.

“We lobby with various agencies at district as well as national level to ensure that people with disabilities are not left behind.

“First and foremost, we link persons with disabilities to people who can assist in various areas such as agriculture and community works,” Masamba says.

He adds that the network also engages with the district council to ensure that they mainstream issues of people with disabilities in their programmes.

“Besides, we also ask councils to consider our colleagues in governance structure positions such as area and village development committees to empower them to meaningfully contribute to solutions to their challenges,” Masamba says.

He further says youthful persons with disabilities between the ages of 18 and 45 are offered technical and vocational skills in various colleges once support is secured.

Nsanje District Council spokesperson Martin Chiwanda, however, says the council prioritises safeguarding of persons with disability and their personal effects in time of natural catastrophes.

“Whenever a disaster strikes, we first consider reaching out to the most vulnerable groups who in include persons with disabilities, children, women and the elderly.

“Even in the area or village civil protection committees, we ensure that there is a good representation of persons with disabilities to positively articulate issues that affect them the most,” Chiwanda says.

Meanwhile, flush floods have again devastated some parts of the country including Chikwawa and Nsanje with government declaring them disaster areas with people that need immediate assistance.

As different stakeholders and well-wishers trickle come forth with relief assistance, one can only hope that people with disabilities are given special attention.