A bleak forecast has sparked anxiety and uncertainties in the Shire Valley, where 2015 floods ripped homes, displaced millions and washed away crops and livestock.
Weather forecasts show the Southern Region will experience floods, with scanty rain in the North.
Eight kilometres from Nsanje Boma is Mwasalapa Village, the new home to 162 households who fled the flood-prone Chisi 1 near Shire River which swelled and broke its banks three years ago.
These rural Malawians remember experiencing nonstop rains for 12 days in January 2015, until rising overspills from the Shire came hissing like angry snakes and wiped out their homes.
“Our village was flooded instantly and what followed were desperate attempts to escape,” recalls Thole Zeka, 30.
He lost two brothers to the floods in which 176 people died. The survivors held a symbolic funeral as the bodies of Zeka’s siblings were never recovered from the floods President Peter Mutharika termed the worst in Malawi’s history.
He counts himself lucky, saying: “I just managed to save my wife and son. I put my son on my shoulders and ran upland, praying for our safety,” he narrates.
Boys Kamphepo, 69, lost an entire herd of cattle in the deluge.
“When tragedy struck, no amount of wealth mattered as compared to life. I run for my life. It is only now that I feel the loss. My cattle, radio receiver, two bicycles, furniture, 10 bags of maize, five bags of fertilizers, poultry and livestock were washed away,” he laments.
The Shire Valley districts of Nsanje and Chikwawa were the worst hit by the disaster which hit 15 districts, especially in the South.
On January 13 2015, Mutharika appealed for international assistance.
Now fears of a similar tragedy are looming following weather reports which indicate that the southern districts are likely to experience floods in the coming months.
“This is bad news because affected villagers, who camped at Mpasa Community Day Secondary School in 2015, are still struggling to rebuild and settle down. They lost everything, except life,” says village head Mwasalapa.
Margret Nasho, 26, survives on earnings from piecework in fields of well-off people. Her family lost livestock and crops.
“It will take many years for some of us to rise from what happened in 2015. Now we are just hearing warnings on radio, asking people to relocate from flood-prone areas,” she says.
Chisi 1 communities had lived and cultivated too close to the Shire for decades because the riverside stretch because the alluvial soils are moist and fertile.
“We might be safe here, but we have a problem with farming. We need treadle pumps which we cannot afford. We request the district council to help us grow crops using irrigation,” says Patrick Magaso, 29.
Like the 2015 disaster, the news of looming floods has spurred communities in Nsanje and Chikwawa to prepare for the worst.
To prevent floods, Senior Chief Tengani advises communities to dredge Nkuda River which splits Mwasalapa and other villages.
“Area Development Committees we are sensitising people to get ready for another difficult rainy season,” says the chief.
The locals have requested the Department of Disaster and Management Affairs (Dodma) to extend a dyke under construction in Mwasalapa to Mpasa Secondary School. They are awaiting feedback, they say.
Dodma spokesperson Chipiliro Khamula says disaster preparedness activities are progressing well in all flood-prone districts.
The department has already purchased and stock-piled relief items at its main warehouse in Ntcheu, he says.
“Plans are at an advanced level to do likewise at our warehouses in Karonga, Blantyre and Lilongwe,” he says.
According to Khamula, government plans to deploy search-and-rescue personnel in disaster hotspots before the rains.
Government is also constructing flood-mitigating structures in flood-prone districts under the Small Grants Scheme, bankrolled by UNDP and the Chinese government.
“We have also built check dams in Mangochi and we are installing gabion baskets and a dyke along the ever-swelling Mwanza River in Chikwawa,” Khamula states.
Dodma has built evacuation centres in Mangochi, Nsanje, Salima, Karonga and Chikwawa which have experienced devastating floods lately.