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Claiming rights in the face of calamities

Written by  Patrick Ndawala
Chapola- narrating how her child died at the camp Chapola- narrating how her child died at the camp

March 14, 2019 remains a memorable day for Joyce Chapola of Malikhu Village in Traditional Authority (T.A.) Mwambo’s area in Zomba.

Memories of this day hurt her most because it is when her three-year-old son died from the effects of a disaster. Chapola believes the sad incident could have been averted.  

“Of course doctors said my son was anaemic; but I believe his life could have been saved if our house was not damaged by floods and strong winds,” Chapola narrates, sadness splashing across her face.

The 37-year-old mother says during the night of March 6, 2019, one of the walls of her house fell on her children, including the deceased.

Fortunately, nobody was seriously injured at the time but the whole house eventually crumbled due to flooding water from Phalombe River.

She and her husband then decided to seek refuge with their seven kids at one of the make-shift camps in Zomba.

Chapola, now a mother of six, says life at the camp was very unbearable, especially for the children.

“After spending a week at the camp, my son started suffering from malaria. We tried to take him to the hospital but he died on our way,” she says.

Congestion and lack of basic needs at the camp, such as food, are strongly believed to have contributed to the death of the young boy.

“My child could have survived if two things had happened: firstly, if my house was not brought down by floods; secondly, if we had good environment at the camp,” Chapola says.

Group Village Head Kathebwe of T.A. Mwambo attests to the pain his subjects go through whenever Phalombe River breaks its banks.

He says he personally witnessed the death of two of his subjects due to floods in his area.
“A girl, Gladys Kachembere from Thumba Village in T.A. Mwambo died on the spot last year (2019) when a wall fell on her,” he says.

However, Kathebwe apportions blame to wanton cutting down of trees by communities who stay on the upper land of Phalombe, Namadzi and Mombezi rivers.

“We are always victims of circumstances because of those that stay on the upper land. They have carelessly cut down trees that used to control water flow.

“When these rivers overflow, our lives are always at risk,” he explains.

During a recent activity on Climate Justice on Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices conducted by Catholic Development Commission (CADECOM), Anderson Tambala of Matola Village in Sub T.A. Matola in Balaka also recalled a sad incident that occurred in 2018 due to floods.

He said one person in his village died while hundreds of households were left homeless following the December, 2018 floods.

“A Form 4 student at Toleza Community Day Secondary School was swept by flooding water when he was trying to cross Liwawadzi River in Balaka.

“The boy was expected to write his MSCE in June, 2019 but it is very sad we lost life of a young person due to flooding,” Tambala said. 
Statistics from Machinga Disaster Risk Management Office shows the district lost five lives during the March, 2019 disaster while 59 people sustained injuries of various degrees.

The report further says 29,031 households were affected at the time, which translated into 145, 155 people.

The sad narratives and statistics reflect how people’s rights are violated, not by another person, but as a result of disasters that largely emanate from climate change.

The Malawi 2019 Floods Post Disaster Needs Assessment Report paints a big picture of how Malawians struggled when they were faced with one of the worst tropical cyclones (Cyclone Idai).

The cyclone attracted heavy rains and strong winds. According to the report, an estimated 975,000 people were affected, with 86,976 displaced, 60 killed and 672 injured.

Malawi is not only a signatory to international conventions and frameworks that safeguard human rights but also has domestic laws and policies on the same.

Stakeholders that assist government to safeguard human rights in the country work within these laws and policies.

Triggered by many cases of human rights violations that are caused by effects of climate change, CADECOM is promoting resilience through a Climate Challenge Program in Malawi (CCPM).

The faith-based organisation is implementing the program in Chikwawa, Balaka, Machinga and Zomba with financial support from the Scottish Government through TROCAIRE.

CADECOM Assistant Programs Coordinator for Climate Justice Project, Aaron Ntaya acknowledges that human rights, including the right to life, are violated by the effects of climate change.

Ntaya says it is his belief people’s right to life should be taken seriously, especially when they are faced with disaster-related shocks.

He says that is why CADECOM’s program (CCPM)empowers communities to understand their rights in relation to climate change.

“We also engage government and local organisations to understand the citizen’s human rights in the wake of climate change.

“There is also need for concerted efforts to mitigate and make communities resilient to climate-change shocks,” he says.

As stakeholders invest in building strong disaster-prevention structures such as dykes and create resilience to climate- change shocks among communities, Ntaya sees it incumbent upon the latter to adhere to early warning system messages.

Malawi’s Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA) has joined hands with different partners, including local councils to develop disaster risk management plans, largely to minimise effects of climate change and disasters in communities.

“We are implementing the project ‘Saving Lives and Protecting Agriculture-based Livelihoods in Malawi: Scaling Up the Use of Modernised Climate Information and Early Warning System (M- CLIMES),” says DoDMA spokesperson, Chipiliro Khamula.

He says the goal of M-CLIMES Project is to save lives and enhance livelihoods at risk of climate-change-related disasters.

The project also develops source books for schools as a mainstreaming tactic in the education sector to reduce risk and build community resilience to disasters.

“We have also stand-by arrangements for search and rescue with Malawi Defence Force and Malawi Red Cross Society.

“Further, we are raising awareness using different media platforms on what communities need to do when disasters strike,” Khamula adds.

However, whilst government and stakeholder efforts are recognised and appreciated, makeshift homes for those displaced need strong caring and monitoring.

This would help women like Joyce Chapola, not to go through the pains of losing children as young as three in a place that is supposed to offer relief home and food after their displacement.




Dr. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera is the current President of Malawi. He was sworn into office on June 28, 2020 at Malawi Square, Bingu International Convention Centre, Lilongwe. Before joining frontline politics, Chakwera was President of the Malawi Assemblies of God from 1989 until he resigned on May...