A half-finished building with gaping holes meant to be windows is deserted. There are no children on the playground.
The usual sight of women preparing meals is nowhere near the soil-floored verandah. And the men, who usually spent time basking in the sunshine of Mzuzu are a rare sight.
In short, victims of a disaster which struck the green city last April have been forced out of Kawuwa Camp after spending close to two months in the refuge house.
“We were told to move out by May 31 and we had no choice, but to leave after noticing that the city council stopped providing us with food items,” said Nelson Sambo, chairperson for the camp.
The victims moved out four days after President Peter Mutharika visited the camp and donated K7 million ($9 790) to Mzuzu City Council (MCC) to support the victims. He also gave out K100 000 ($140) cash to each of the seven bereaved families.
However, little changed for the victims, who were earlier starving as they were given rotten beans for relish. According to Sambo, about 20 families out of the 65 seeking refuge at the camp were given K5 000 ($7) each.
“After the donation, we thought things would improve. But we discovered it was life as usual. A lot of people are not happy with the way the donation money has been handled,” says Sambo.
Most of the victims at the camp have moved back to the slums of Masasa Township, which was affected with mudslides during the disaster.
The families have defied numerous calls by various players, including Vice-President Saulos Chilima, to relocate to higher areas to avoid a repeat of the disaster.
Said Chilima weeks ago when he visited the sites: “Relocating these people is a must because we will be back next year if they don’t move.”
The Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma), which Chilima heads set May 30 as deadline for the victims to vacate the camps.
However, government is short of plans on how and where the victims will be relocated to as even Mutharika, during his visit, failed to articulate these issues.
As a result, the victims have had no choice, but return to the disaster -prone areas which are mostly wetlands, river banks and dugout slopes.
“Masasa is almost my home. If it’s about relocation, I need to be given land and some cash to construct my new home,” says Constance Mwale, originally from Kalumpha Village, Traditional Authority Kabunduli in Nkhata Bay.
Mwale owns a compound which had a three bed-roomed house and four one-roomed houses for renting.
From these, Mwale says she used to rake in K45 000 every month. Today, she has nowhere to depend on as all these houses were washed away with the relentless rains that lasted for three weeks.
“We bought the plot in 2007 at K12 000 [$17],” says Mwale, while conceding that they were aware that the place is almost uninhabitable.
“Given the amount of money we saved, we could not do otherwise. We settled here as we could not afford to buy land in planned areas,” says Mwale, whose husband is a bricklayer.
Similar sentiments are echoed in other wetlands of Chibanja, Chibavi, Salisbury Line, Ching’ambo, lower parts of Chiputula, Zolozolo and Mchengautuba.
Climate change experts say residents in these townships have disturbed wetlands; hence, rising temperatures and floods. Associate professor of Environmental Sustainability at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar) David Mkwambisi says individuals have disturbed the wetlands by blocking water channels or building on river banks.
“A wetland operates like a sponge. Building in a wetland is like forcing water out of a sponge. This leads to high temperatures in such areas.
“When it rains, the areas are prone to floods because all the water flows to fill up the sponge,” he elaborates.
Planning and Land Management expert based at Mzuzu University (Mzuni) Mtafu Manda says if individuals are to build in wetlands, they need to follow guidelines on how to build safely in such areas.
“As much as people live in these areas informally, they need to be protected. Government has guidelines on how to build safely in those areas. For example, houses need to have strong foundations and away from streams,” he says.
He, therefore, calls for a sensitisation project for people to build safely in such areas to create a resilient city to disasters.
Mzuzu Mayor William Mkandawire says the relocation exercise will not happen any time soon as the council is still consulting the Ministry of Lands, Housing and urban Development to find a site for the process.
“The relocation will not happen today or tomorrow, not even next month. There are several factors we need to consider before embarking on the process,” he says.