I was in Lilongwe when the recent floods in Mtandire happened. I have been a Lilongwe for many years, but I have never seen Lingadzi River swollen like this.
Mtandire residents woke up to the nasty surprise of water flooding their homes and destroying their property.
Some people climbed trees, others climbed kilns of bricks and yet others were swept away by the raging water.
After the floods, rescuers came and took people to safety. But many were left homeless, with no food, water and other basics.
Floods pose numerous challenges to affected communities, including loss of lives, property and livelihood.
As was the case in Mtandire, the public health challenges such as diarrhoea, cholera, malaria and other infectious diseases that could result from using contaminated food or water.
Diarrheal illnesses primarily results from contaminated water. Contact with polluted water often catalyse skin and eye infections. These include wound infections, dermatitis and conjunctivitis.
But impacts of flooding can be described in three phases. The first phase comprises the first four days when people are rescued and treated from injuries and trauma.
The second runs from a few weeks to a month when infections, which might include food-borne, water- borne, air-borne and vector-borne diseases, emerge.
The third phase usually comes a month after the flooding when infections with long incubation appear and some possible outbreaks are beginning to emerge within the communities.
It is over a month since the floods in Mtandire. We are already in phase three.
Are there any adequate prevention and control measures?
Mtandire is a high density residential area comprising low-cost houses. Most households use pit latrines with no organised garbage disposal.
Studies have shown that small-scale flood management activities-including proper waste management, dredging of waterways, clearing of drainage systems-are effective in reducing flood risks.
The Lingadzi river catchment area has lost most of its trees and people encroaching the area to mould bricks and mine sand.
This has weakened the soil, resulting into the river bursting its banks.
The flood in Mtandire did not just emanate from torrential rains, but also cumulative effects of ‘small problems’ ignored in the beginning.
The floods sometimes lead to increase in malaria incidences due to widespread mosquitoes and breeding sites.
There is also a high risk of cholera and other diarrhoeareal diseases due to poor sanitation and lack of safe drinking water.
Rapid population growth in Mtandire has led to mushrooming of informal settlements and encroachment of river banks.
When the flood hit, residents close to the river were the victims.
The population boom could be attributed to migration from rural settings into the cities in search for better jobs, business opportunities and other economic prospects.
Globally, population growth, poverty and land increasingly push people to live in disaster-prone areas where public health impacts are increasing.
As people are still recovering from the floods, there is an increased risk of infectious disease outbreaks in Mtandire and its vicinity.
The side-effects could run for months if proper measures are not in place to combat these diseases.
Many well-wishers donated the needed items, but what is being done to tackle the problems of sanitation and other public health challenges?
Managing affected populations and ensuring that proper sanitary measures are put in place could reduce the risk of disease.
Loss of property and livelihood could result in poor nutrition and inadequate personal hygiene resulting in further public health crises, including malnutrition, scabies and skin diseases.