On January 7 2015, Esnart Bokosi, 62, from Traditional Authority (T/A) Maseya in Chikwawa escaped death by a whisker. It happened like in a movie. One by one, walls of her house collapsed while she moved from one corner of the house to the other, praying against hope the other walls would remain intact.
She recalls: “I was in deep sleep and when I awoke I realised water was flooding in the house. I woke up quickly and started moving items to one part of the house thinking the waters would recede eventually. Slowly, the water levels reached knee high. I knew there was heavy water flow outside and so took no risks to move out of the house, but I was shocked to see the walls falling and don’t know what happened later.”
What Bokosi remembers is that she was hanging on to tree branches in the morning. Water had flooded the area and almost half the length of the tree trunk was in the flood waters.
Although she is proud to have survived the disaster, Bokosi believes the aftermath of the floods and subsequent drought have made her life more painful than death. During the visit, her house had nothing and she had no idea where her next meal would come from. Bokosi says she is a farmer, but the floods washed away all her food crops and livestock, which were a source of her livelihood.
“I lost everything. I could have replanted, but to have my garden cultivated, people work in exchange for food. I do not have anything. I tried to plant legumes on a piece of land, but they did not do well due to drought. My only hope is handouts,” explains Bokosi, claiming she has no one to support her.
Although there is no specific data for the elderly hit hard by the floods and subsequent drought, the figures should be high. Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) says last year’s floods displaced 174 000 people and left nearly three million starving. This year, Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda recently said the subsequent drought has left 8.4 million people food insecure.
The years 2015 and 2016 have exposed Malawi to tormenting consequences of disasters. It is one of the countries hit hard by El-Nino which has turned it into a hub for disasters such as flash floods, dry spells and drought. Highly affected are the elderly as they can hardly recover from the losses that come with any disasters.
Malawi Network for Older Persons Organisations (Manepo) says three percent of the people affected by disasters in Malawi are the elderly. National Statistical Office (NSO) says the elderly account for 5.2 percent of the total population.
Manepo national coordinator Andrew Kavala observes that the recent disasters have hit hard the elderly and laments that they are not given the necessary response. He blames it all on how the response package is designed.
“The one-size-fits-all approach is not helping matters. The elderly and women have specific needs, which have to be considered separately during assessment period,” he explains.
He calls for the need for a consolidated age-inclusive approach in the planning, design and implementation phases of disaster response.
Kavala adds that his organisation is engaging government and stakeholders such as Malawi Red Cross Society to ensure there is proper disaggregation of data in view of the elderly, gender and disability for those affected by disasters.
“This disaggregation should be according to age, gender and disability. This is strategic in a way that we will actually know the age range and how many are the elderly, disabled, children and women. We are also mobilising resources to support this,” he explains.
Dodma spokesperson Jeremiah Mphande admits the trend and says government is not controlled by factors such as gender, age and disabilities when designing disaster response. He is, however, quick to point out that the department is in the process of reviewing the response package to ensure it is inclusive of people of all ages.
“Government response system is currently generic, addressing the situation for everybody without necessarily focusing on special needs for some groups. The major problem could be that we have not been able to disaggregate our data during needs assessment exercises,” explains Mphande.
He, however, says the National Disaster Policy outlines vulnerable groups to be prioritised.
Mphande also points out that most of the elderly affected by floods or droughts are on either social cash transfer or the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Mvac) food distribution beneficiaries’ lists.
A recent report by Help Age International ranked Malawi as sixth among the 10 worst places to grow old across the world. n